MPs weigh in on 2017 bud­get

The Niagara Falls Review - - FRONT PAGE - RAY SPITERI

Chris Bit­tle hopes the fed­er­al­go­v­ern­ment can help make in­ter-mu­nic­i­pal tran­sit a re­al­ity in Ni­a­gara.

“A lot of the larger mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have been lob­by­ing for the next phase of in­fra­struc­ture money and pub­lic tran­sit to go based on rider­ship, and that’s great if you’re Toronto, Van­cou­ver, Mon­treal, Ot­tawa and have an es­tab­lished tran­sit sys­tem,” said the St. Catharines Lib­eral MP.

“But I’ve been lob­by­ing hard that there be a sep­a­rate fund for emerg­ing tran­sit sys­tems so that if there is a merger in Ni­a­gara, that money can be ap­plied to re­ally de­velop that and grow the sys­tem, rather than just be based on rider­ship num­bers.” Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau is sched­uled to in­tro­duce the govern­ment’s lat­est bud­get Wed­nes­day.

It will be the Lib­eral govern­ment’s sec­ond bud­get since the 2015 elec­tion.

Ni­a­gara Falls, St. Catharines and Wel­land city coun­cils have re­cently voted to get on board with in­ter­mu­nic­i­pal tran­sit.

The coun­cils en­dorsed in prin­ci­ple the cre­ation of a con­sol­i­dated sys­tem — a part­ner­ship be­tween the three com­mu­ni­ties and Ni­a­gara Re­gion. The is­sue will now go be­fore the Re­gion.

The coun­cils have re­quested the Re­gion sup­port a con­sol­i­dated tran­sit model and be­come for­mally in­volved in pro­vid­ing pub­lic tran­sit through a triple ma­jor­ity process.

That process in­volves all 12 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in Ni­a­gara vot­ing on the is­sue and the ma­jor­ity of coun­cils rep­re­sent­ing the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion would have to sup­port it.

Ni­a­gara Cen­tre Lib­eral MP Vance Badawey said the govern­ment has al­ready an­nounced an $81-bil­lion in­vest­ment in trans­porta­tion, in­clud­ing pub­lic tran­sit.

“This goes along the lines of what Chris (Bit­tle) is talk­ing about, with re­spect to not only ex­ist­ing trans­porta­tion util­i­ties, but also new ones,” he said.

“It’s just a case of my­self and Chris mak­ing the case based on the strat­egy that is pre­sented to us by the Re­gion and the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties well enough to ac­cess the $81 bil­lion.”

Badawey said he has been in di­a­logue with var­i­ous min­is­ters, in­clud­ing the fi­nance min­is­ter, to “let them know that I’ll be knock­ing.”

Ni­a­gara Falls Con­ser­va­tive MP Rob Ni­chol­son said he would like to see the govern­ment sup­port in­ter-mu­nic­i­pal tran­sit in Ni­a­gara.

“Some­thing like this would be very help­ful,” he said.

“A num­ber of years ago I was in­volved with get­ting $25 mil­lion (of fed­eral money) for Wego (along with $25 mil­lion from the pro­vin­cial govern­ment) — a trans­porta­tion sys­tem mov­ing peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly tourists, in our area. What you find very often is that cer­tain projects that could help ev­ery­body in our area can­not be af­ford­able for just one level of govern­ment.”

Bit­tle said “no one knows” what will be in the bud­get un­til it’s pre­sented.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to spec­u­late be­cause it is one of the clos­est-guarded se­crets in Ot­tawa and re­ally only the fi­nance min­is­ter and the prime min­is­ter can speak with cer­tainty as to what’s there.”

He said he ex­pects the bud­get to fo­cus heav­ily on help­ing the mid­dle class “and those work­ing hard” to join it. “That’s what we ran on and that’s what we’re go­ing to be judged on when we go to the polls in 2019. I don’t have specifics, but based on what we’ve been hear­ing, I ex­pect that that will be the fo­cus of the bud­get.”

Badawey said he’s propos­ing the govern­ment es­tab­lish a sus­tain­able fund­ing en­ve­lope sim­i­lar to the gas tax “that would be in place for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to ac­cess with re­spect to com­mu­nity im­prove­ment and growth plans.”

“In­stead of be­ing par­tic­u­lar to one project, it’s par­tic­u­lar to many projects that might be in­cluded in an over­all com­mu­nity im­prove­ment growth plan.”

Ni­chol­son said he wants to see a bud­get that helps fam­i­lies and se­niors.

“I have as many se­niors in the Ni­a­gara Falls rid­ing as any­body does in Canada. Work­ing fam­i­lies have chal­lenges and any­thing that can be done to as­sist them … I al­ways look for.”

Ni­chol­son said he hopes the govern­ment will pro­vide sup­port for small busi­nesses and in­dus­tries of im­por­tance in Ni­a­gara, such as agri­cul­ture.

“In par­tic­u­lar, the fruit in­dus­try and the wine in­dus­try to see what, if any­thing, will af­fect them, if there’s any­thing there to their ben­e­fit. I al­ways like to see any­thing to do with the borders in Canada — what can be done in any way to as­sist with that.”

Ni­chol­son said he hopes the govern­ment doesn’t con­tinue to run deficits that will “be cost­ing us for gen­er­a­tions to come.”

“They in­her­ited a bal­anced bud­get and they said it was go­ing to be a $10-bil­lion deficit their first time, but it was con­sid­er­ably more than that. I’d like to see what the bot­tom line is go­ing to be be­cause you can’t just keep bor­row­ing money that some day peo­ple will pay a price for.”

Ni­a­gara West–Glan­brook Con­ser­va­tive MP Dean Al­li­son said he hopes the bud­get doesn’t in­clude “ad­di­tional tax­a­tion or ser­vice fees.”

“I know that the Lib­er­als talk about the rich­est one per cent — we’re go­ing to tax them — but I think in re­al­ity when you start look­ing at ser­vice fees and you start cut­ting tax cred­its … things that our govern­ment did, that doesn’t af­fect just the rich­est one per cent, that af­fects ev­ery­body.”

Bit­tle

Badawey

Al­li­son

Ni­chol­son

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