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End 'partisan' budget games: Martin

By TERRY WEBER
Friday, June 17, 2005 Updated at 3:19 PM EDT
Globe and Mail Update with Canadian Press

Prime Minister Paul Martin Friday called on the federal Opposition to put aside “partisan games” and pass the budget.

“There is too much at stake for us to tolerate partisan games any longer,” Mr. Martin said, speaking in Richmond Hill, Ont., where he announced $1.8-billion over five-years in gas-tax funding for Ontario municipalities.

“I believe that it is time to put politics aside and pass the budget.”

On Thursday, the Liberal’s main budget bill passed in the House of Commons with the support of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

But, a second related bill which covers amendments to the main legislation remains before the House and is likely to face a more a more contentious vote when it reaches the floor, likely early next week, because of Conservative opposition to that bill.

Friday’s announcement represents a four-way agreement between Ottawa, the Ontario government, the city of Toronto and the Association of Ontario Municipalities. Under the deal, Ontario municipalities will get $223-million in the first of the five-year agreement.

“By bringing municipal representatives to the table as equal partners, we have ensured that federal gas tax funds are invested directly in Ontario’s municipalities,” John Gerretsen, Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, said in a statement.

Friday’s pact marks the first time that municipalities have tapped into federal gas-tax revenue for public transit and other “environmentally sustainable” local projects.

A second agreement sets in motion a deal that would also let Ontario share another $310-million for public transit over the next two years. That deal, however, was struck after the main budget — which set aside a total of $5-billion for Canadian municipalities over five years — in a deal with the NDP and is part of the current amendment before the House.

“In order for both the gas tax and the public transit funds to flow, the budget bills currently being considered by Parliament must pass,” the federal government said in a statement outlining Friday’s agreements.

The Conservatives claimed credit Friday for forcing Mr. Martin to finally move on his promise to share the gas tax, but Tory MP Peter Van Loan said they have real concerns with the changes in Bill C-48, including the fact the extra transit money is not permanent.

“If the money ever flows, and it may well be a phony commitment,” he said. “It runs out in 18 months.”

Outspoken Mississauga Mayor Hazel MacCallion warned Harper not to block passage of the budget amendments and interfere with the money for local transit systems.

“If he kills the budget (amendments), I think he will have a tough time getting elected across Canada,” she said. “We want to put more buses on the road.”

Other municipal politicians were quick to applaud Martin for finally reaching an agreement with the province, the city of Toronto and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario on sharing the gas tax.

“This is a big shot in the arm for the TTC,” said Howard Moscoe, chair of the Toronto Transit Commission.

“It allows us to dream again.”




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