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Ontario to put $1B into roads, transit


Premier Dalton McGuinty, posing in front of a $900,000 Scottish-built double-decker GO bus, announces the province’s new infrastructure investment on March 20, 2008.

Higher - than - expected tax revenue will also be used for affordable housing, McGuinty says

Mar 21, 2008 04:30 AM
Robert Benzie
Queen’s Park Bureau Chief

There will be an additional $1 billion for roads, bridges and transit in Tuesday’s provincial budget, Premier Dalton McGuinty promises.

Breaking with the tradition of budget secrecy, McGuinty scooped Finance Minister Dwight Duncan yesterday to make the surprise announcement at a Downsview GO Transit garage.

In a hastily organized move, the premier crashed Transportation Minister Jim Bradley’s scheduled announcement that the first of 22 Scottish-built double-decker GO buses would soon hit the road.

“In our budget we will be investing $1 billion in infrastructure to reach every Ontario community - from Windsor to Whitby to Wawa to Walkerton,” the premier said.

“We’re going to improve public transit, we’re going to invest in roads and bridges and we’re going to invest in affordable housing,” he said.

“These kinds of investments will help create about 10,000 construction jobs and we’ll get better housing, better homes for our families, and we’ll have more choice - roads or transit - when it comes to getting to work.”

The cash windfall is the result of higher-than-expected revenues from corporate, income and retail sales taxes. There’s so much money flowing in that McGuinty also pledged new “strategic supports” for industry in the budget, but declined to elaborate.

Beyond the $100 million toward affordable housing that McGuinty announced last Monday, the premier could not say how and where the additional $900 million would be spent.

The money is over and above any funds that would be available to cities and towns if the budget surplus exceeds $800 million when the province’s financial statements are finalized this summer.

Toronto Mayor David Miller welcomed McGuinty’s move.

“While we will have to wait until the provincial budget for more details, I am encouraged that we will be able to continue to work with the province to make important infrastructure investments in Toronto’s public transit, public housing, and roads,” Miller said in a statement.

Rob MacIsaac, who chairs Metrolinx which oversees Great Toronto Area transit, called the investment “outstanding.”

“We obviously have lots of needs. I think characterizing this as a start is the right way to put it,” said MacIsaac, who couldn’t say how great an impact the funding would have on the planned $17.5 billion MoveOntario 2020 GTA transit plan.

Progressive Conservative MPP Tim Hudak (Niagara West-Glanbrook) warned that Ontario’s slowing economy needs a bigger jolt.

“We are a province of tremendous talent and entrepreneurial spirit and great potential, suffering under (the Liberals’) outdated, high-tax and runaway (spending) policies,” said Hudak.

NDP Leader Howard Hampton blasted the Liberals for touting the purchase of Scottish buses the same day as they voted down a New Democrat private member’s bill to mandate that 50 per cent of all transit money be spent in Ontario.

“The New Democrats believe in buy Ontario.' What we're seeing from the McGuinty Liberals issell out Ontario,’” Hampton said.

The government released a new policy later yesterday, saying that transit vehicles bought with provincial cash must now have at least 25 per cent Canadian content.

The edict does not affect the new Scottish-built GO buses, which will operate on Highways 403 and 407, between Oakville GO station and York University.