Ontario budget fails to deliver on local priorities

Budgets are often remembered for what’s not in them instead of what is, writes Ian McLean

In the political world events like budget speeches are often remembered more for what is not in them versus what is in them.

In some ways this is the case with Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s first budget tabled on April 11. This was the first full budget since the election of the Ford administration in June of last year.

Anticipation has been high for the early months of 2019 that a major announcement would be made in the budget with respect to two-way, all-day fast and frequent GO train passenger service in the Waterloo Region-Toronto Corridor. This level of anticipation was elevated when Premier Ford and other ministers indicated that major expansions and expenditures were planned on subways and related transit in Toronto in an announcement prior to the budget release.

Unfortunately for Waterloo Region and for communities between here and Toronto, we are no further ahead than a decade ago. The province has committed to the completion of a transportation plan for southwestern Ontario by the fall of 2019, which is a minor consolation when the expectations of a major GO train service announcement in our corridor with a plan, timeline and funding confirmed did not materialize.

The budget references an active exploration of opportunities to enhance the train speeds and service levels on existing railway corridors, as well as opportunities for intercommunity bus services that better support the immediate needs of southwestern Ontario. However, the priority for this review has to be local GO train service.

The current government is certainly not risk averse to major infrastructure projects. The announcements in Toronto were, according to Premier Ford, the biggest subway expansions in Ontario history. It appears the cabinet is aware that infrastructure is required to move both goods and people if the Waterloo Region, Ontario and national economies are going to expand and prosper in challenging and changing global markets.

The local business community and many residents are struggling with the wait here in Waterloo Region to deliver these vital transit services and connections. Every day we wait is a missed opportunity to deliver more than 170,000 high-quality jobs, a $50-billion increase in direct equity value and $17.5 billion in direct annual gross domestic product (GDP).

The Connect the Corridor Coalition, which I chair and is funded by business, will continue to advocate on behalf of our partners and this community. We look forward to continued productive engagement with Premier Ford, his cabinet and local MPPS of both parties as we move forward. There is simply too much at risk for our economy to operate without certainty around delivering fast, frequent, two-way, all-day service across Ontario’s economic engine.

This opinion piece was written by Ian McLean and was originally published in the Kitchener Post. View the original posting here.