May 24, 2004

Ontario budget provides support for infrastructure, transit, water quality

A number of measures introduced last week in the Ontario Liberal government's first budget will address environmental and environment-related priorities, the latter including infrastructure and public transit.

The budget's environmental allocations include more than $400 million to support source-to-tap drinking water initiatives, with a significant portion of this funding to be used to help municipalities bring their water treatment up to the high standards set out in the province's Safe Drinking Water Act. More than $250 million will be directed to capital funding. The budget will also provide $20 million over the next two years to help farmers pay compliance costs associated with the Nutrient Management Act.

The province intends to proceed with proclamation of the outstanding legislative provisions to help municipalities provide financial support for the remediation of brownfield sites. Additionally, the government will join municipalities in a partnership program to provide matching property tax relief to ensure that these sites are returned to their economic and environmental potential.

Ontario will also work with municipalities and other stakeholders to make further progress toward its commitment to divert 60% of waste from landfills. To complement this initiative, the government is also appointing an expert panel to advise on ways to improve the environmental assessment process.

The government plans to renew and build critical infrastructure, investing $3.3 billion during 2004-05 (gross basis). Included as well is a $505-million commitment for 2004-05 for municipal and local infrastructure investments.

The budget also allocates funding for municipal rural infrastructure, confirming the provincial share of funding for the new Canada-Ontario Municipal Rural Infrastructure Program. Canada, Ontario and AMO recently signed Letters of Intent to develop a $900 million program (see story this issue).

The budget provides a plan to create an Ontario Strategic Infrastructure Financing Authority (OSIFA) which will deliver a loan program for infrastructure financing in Ontario. Legislation will be introduced to affirm the creation of the OSIFA, which will replace the current Ontario Municipal Economic Infrastructure Financing Authority. The new agency's first initiative, the Infrastructure Renewal Loan program, will focus on municipalities in 2004-05 to support water and sewer systems, waste management, roads and bridges.

The government intends to release the first-ever Growth Management Plan for the Golden Horseshoe to maximize the benefits of growth and minimize its costs, and to develop a ten-year strategic infrastructure investment plan which will set out investment priorities for all sectors and describe how these investments will be funded.

Addressing transportation, the budget commits the government to providing an initial one cent per litre share of the provincial gas tax for municipal transit beginning in October 2004, rising to two cents per litre in 2006. (This initiative was an election platform commitment.) The province also intends to introduce legislation to create a new Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (GTTA), responsible for co-ordinating transportation investment and planning in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

The budget will provide $448 million to expand GO Transit services; develop the new Bus Rapid Transit system in the GTA; undertake technical studies and environmental assessments for the Ottawa O-Train and Waterloo Region's Light Rail Transit; begin York Region's Quick Start program; and renew municipal transit fleets across the province. In addition, provincial support for the Toronto Transit Commisison will include funding to undertake an environmental assessment for the possible future expansion of the Spadina subway to York University.

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