Watson wants more clarity on Ontario budget
Ted Raymond, Newstalk 580 CFRA
Published Friday, April 12, 2019 9:17PM EDT
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he’d like more clarity from the Province when it comes to some of the items laid out in the Ontario budget, which was tabled Thursday at Queen’s Park.
Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa Now Friday with Kristy Cameron, Watson detailed several items he’d like to know more about.
Among them, money for city police to help deal with gangs and gun violence. The Ontario government will be giving Ottawa $2 million, but Watson says it doesn’t line up with what’s being given to Toronto.
“In the discussions I’ve had with the Premier and other ministers, the understanding was Toronto would get 25 million over four years,” he says. “We’re about a third the size of Toronto, so we should get eight million, which would be two million a year over four years. I was quite surprised when the budget document indicated Toronto would be getting its 25 million but we would only be getting two million, so we’re going to have to clarify that.”
The mayor says Ottawa and Toronto have similar challenges when it comes to gang crime and gun violence and he wants to be treated fairly.
Mixed review on Transit
On other files, like transit, Watson says he’s both pleased and disappointed. He’s happy to see the Province’s commitment of $1.2 billion for Phase 2 of LRT, but unhappy with the fact that Queen’s Park will not be doubling Ottawa’s share of the gas tax.
“Governments get elected and they’re entitled to make different decisions,” Watson says, “but it was made very clear during the election campaign that that commitment of doubling the gas tax would continue. So, we’re going to sit down with government officials to let them understand that this is a big issue for us. Most of the dollars were going to go toward mass transit projects.”
Watson says he has asked the City Treasurer to come back with solutions to fill the gap of the planned gas tax increase. He says Phase 2 of LRT is not at risk because of the Province’s move.
“It makes it more challenging for us to find from within and use other financing mechanisms to ensure that we continue to move forward with LRT farther east, west, and south.”
But one of the decisions the PC government has made, with regard to transit in Toronto, has Watson feeling hopeful for the next leg of LRT.
Premier Doug Ford has indicated he wants the Province to take control of Toronto’s subway lines, essentially uploading the cost to expand and maintain it onto the provincial government’s shoulders. Watson says, if the plan goes through, it puts Ottawa on a better footing to negotiate for LRT Phase 3.
“If the Province is going to that to Toronto and fund 100 per cent of some of their projects, then we’re in good stead when we go forward with Phase 3 because we want Phase 3 to go to Kanata, Stittsville, and Barrhaven,” Watson says. “We’ve indicated at the City level we don’t have the money for that so we’ve always looked to the Province for a 50/50 cost-sharing with the Federal government or, in the case of what the Province is doing with Toronto, we’d be very open to 100 per cent funding to operate Phase 3.”
Vague language on housing
Watson says he’s still unclear about what the Province has planned for housing, saying the language in the budget is vague.
“The jury’s out on that one,” he says. “They’re planning on bring forward some sort of legislation in the spring. I don’t know what the legislation is going to be but in order to build housing you need money. We need to ensure the federal and provincial governments are back at the table providing us with dollars. There was precious little in the budget about dollars for housing so that’s a concern of ours.”
The budget does cut spending on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing from an interim total of $1.48 billion in 2018-19 to $1.12 billion in 2019-20. Those numbers include the base budget for the Ministry as well as time-limited investments, the latter of which sees the biggest drop.
It’s another file Watson says he hopes to meet with the Minister about to get more information on what to expect.
“We just need [money] to keep flowing down to us because we’re the ones that do the building of the housing,” he says.
No support for booze in parks
The mayor says Provincial changes around liquor laws are not a big priority. The budget lays out a plan to give municipalities the ability to allow drinking in public areas like parks, but it’s not something Watson says he’d support.
“These parks are primarily for kids and families,” he says. “I think there are plenty of other places where you could drink. The last thing we need is to bring booze into the parks and then all of a sudden there’s going to be a demand for washroom facilities, which is a cost, you’d have underage drinking; our police have more important things to do than check IDs of who’s legal and who’s not legal to drink in a park.”
Watson says city councillors are welcome to bring forward motions to change by-laws to allow drinking in local parks, but he would not support those motions.
“On the list of a million priorities, it’s probably down at number one million,” he says.
Concern for Public Health
Watson says one of his other concerns with the budget is how it will affect health care. The budget calls for the establishment of 10 regional public health entities and 10 new regional boards of health with a single common governance model by 2021. But the mayor says, again, it’s unclear how it could affect Ottawa Public Health.
“There are a lot more questions than answers on a lot of these items,” Watson says. “I’m all for saving money but if you have such a huge geography–Ottawa has its own public health unit and we have 2700 square kilometers–are we now going to have to join with Kingston and Belleville and Pembroke and Hawkesbury? It becomes so unwieldy if you have this area that’s just too big. That’s an area of concern.”
Watson says, as with all budgets, “the devil’s in the details” and he’ll be awaiting greater clarification in the coming days and weeks.