Peterborough-area municipal leaders weigh in on wish list for upcoming Ontario budget

The exterior of Queen's Park. Katherine Ward / Global News

Ontario’s budget will be delivered on Nov. 5 and Finance Minister Rod Phillips says the three-year action plan will focus on pandemic response and recovery measures.

What’s actually in the document is unknown at this time, but some Peterborough-area municipal leaders have some specifics they hope are in the budget.

Peterborough County warden J. Murray Jones says he has three wishes for the document: more flexibility in the province’s restart funding to allow for use on capital projects, more money and scope of duties for paramedics and money for a major $1.6-billion plan by the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) to expand broadband capacity to 98 per cent of rural residences in this part of the province.

“We have a drastic need for improved need for internet in Peterborough County and eastern Ontario,” Jones said. “It’s what we need now, it’s what we need tomorrow, it’s what we need for education and agriculture. We’re saying let’s bite the bullet and let’s get on it.”

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Read more: Ontario budget to be released on Nov. 5 after being delayed due to pandemic

City of Kawartha Lakes Mayor Andy Letham said broadband infrastructure is critical to coronavirus pandemic recovery for his municipality.

“There’s no bigger issue in the City of Kawartha Lakes or the country or province and certainly in rural Ontario than broadband,” Letham said. “If we want to recover as a municipality, province and country, the province is going to have to make a commitment for significant funding to broadband.

“It’s going to take a federal commitment as well, but someone needs to get that ball rolling and say, ‘We’re in.’ I would love to see that come forward in the next week and hopefully everyone else will follow suit.”

Letham also pointed to the need for provincial financial help for infrastructure not only in the City of Kawartha Lakes but also across all of rural Ontario.

“We need our Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) with the province to continue, which is infrastructure money. They said they will continue with that for now,” he said. “My worry is that a couple of years down the road, someone will look at the books and say we need to start ramping these things back.

“I think we have some challenging years ahead. We need to spend some money next year and work away at it.”

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The City of Kawartha Lakes is looking at including major capital projects in its 2021 budget, including the next phase of the downtown Lindsay reconstruction project and similar but smaller-scale projects in Fenelon Falls and eventually in Omemee.

Letham says the municipality needs the province to help out with these projects, which can spur on economic growth in the short- and long-term.

He says the Omemee project especially needs a partnership with the province because Highway 7, which runs through the heart of the village, is a provincial highway.

“It’s a Connecting Links program with the province. It’s a partnership with us and the province. We got some money this year to do the design of the downtown. We’re going to put in an application for a grant to get the work started in 2022. We really can’t do it without them,” Letham said.

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The City of Peterborough continues to deal with major revenue losses from the pandemic.

The deficit is projected to be more than $20 million by year’s end.

“Any news in there or funding for municipalities to make up the shortfalls this year for COVID and the additional investment we look for every year, including housing and transit,” Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien said. “Those things we’re responsible for but could use some help from senior levels of government.”

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Stu Harrison, the president of the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, says the province needs to keep the business sector in mind when tabling this budget.

“There’s some big problems that the business community is facing. The big catchall categories include fiscal policy regulation, which is a hindrance for doing business, employment and finding people who are properly trained for the jobs that are available and encouraging entrepreneurs and innovation.”

Peterborough and the Kawarthas has felt the sting of the pandemic across the small business sector, specifically hospitality and tourism.

Harrison says broadband infrastructure is important for this sector, especially in rural parts of the region.

“Broadband is as important as roads and bridges when it comes to most businesses, especially in rural Ontario,” he said.

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