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A game changer? Time will tell

by Patrick Raftis

It appears in the immediate aftermath of the Liberal federal government’s second budget that there are some positive signs for municipalities.

Often virtually ignored in national budgets, municipalities will benefit to the point Federation of Canadian Municipalities  president Clark Somerville called the budget “a game changer ... because of the tools it gives municipalities to drive growth and a higher quality of life for Canadians.”

While much of Somerville’s optimism centres on a plan for transit expansion, that obviously isn’t going to have much impact outside major centres.

He also noted elements in the budget create “a real opportunity to address the housing crisis,” and a $2-billion rural growth plan “recognizes that Canada’s future depends on communities of all sizes.”

Wellington County Warden Dennis Lever said there is “good news” for the county in the budget’s commitment of about a billion dollars a year for social housing, an area where the county has spent considerable funds in recent years.

However, Lever was only cautiously optimistic about the rural growth plan, noting how much Wellington County benefits will depend on how the funding is targeted.

“Sometimes we’re included with the rural, sometimes not so much,” he pointed out.

Not surprisingly, Perth Wellington’s Conservative MP John Nater stated he is “disappointed” with the budget. Nater’s disappointment stems at least in part from a perceived lack of attention to rural areas.

Nater stated he saw “little in tangible support for rural and small-town Canada.” He pointed out no changes were announced to business risk management programs for farmers. That’s a fair criticism, given agricultural organizations have been lobbying for strengthening of risk management supports for as long as there have been agricultural organizations.     

Nater also said support for rural infrastructure is lacking in the budget and notes the commitment of $2 billion in funding for rural and northern infrastructure, while “welcome,” is spread over 10 provinces, three territories and more than a decade, greatly reducing the potential impact.

However, it’s worth noting those funds are in addition to more than $13 billion in infrastructure funding announced in the 2016 budget, making the combined commitment in this area more substantial. Also, the Liberals campaigned on a $60-billion infrastructure program in the 2016 election and have indicated more details of their backloaded program will be revealed in the 2018 budget.

While it’s fair enough to question the Justin Trudeau team’s commitment to their campaign promises given their about face on electoral reform, anyone who doubts their commitment to spending money is probably focusing on the wrong planks in their platform.

Like any budget, the devil will be in the details that will trickle out in the months to come.

However, it appears at first glance to offer some recognition to the important role the municipal level of government plays in delivering key services.

A game changer? We shall see.

March 31, 2017


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