Federal government tables 2019 budget, doubles gas tax funding

WELLINGTON CTY. – Finance minister Bill Morneau unveiled the 2019 federal budget on March 19. 

It includes measures to help new buyers enter the housing market and make prescription medication more affordable, and also $3.9 billion in compensation to the dairy industry and $2.2 billion in additional gas tax funding to improve municipal infrastructure. 

This year’s deficit is expected to be $19.8 billion, with federal debt reaching a projected $761.7 billion by 2023-24.

Morneau stated the federal government is making investments now to grow the economy for the long term. 

For mayors across Wellington, the promise of a $2.2-billion top-up in the federal gas tax fund in particular is a positive takeaway, as area municipalities have long lists of waiting infrastructure improvements, said county Warden and Centre Wellington Mayor Kelly Linton.

“Looking after infrastructure is hugely important to all of us, so I think the seven mayors would be supportive of the federal government coming to the table to help us out,” Linton told the Advertiser.

He added the funds should help municipalities get started on roads or bridge projects faster and advance some  projects further down the line in their 10-year capital forecasts. 

Minto Mayor George Bridge, who represents the County of Wellington as a director of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), said he likes many aspects of the federal budget, including $1.7 billion over the next 13 years to support renewing the government’s Connect to Innovate program, and develop a new Universal Broadband Fund.

When added to potential investments of $1 billion from the Infrastructure Bank, $2 billion in private sector investment, and the CRTC’s $750 million Broadband Fund, the government is collectively looking to bring approximately $5 or $6 billion investment to Canada’s national broadband infrastructure.

“We were quite pleased … They obviously listened to us really well,” said Bridge. “Those are a lot of the asks that we asked for – the broadband one being the big one. It could be as high as $6 billion if you look at the numbers.”

Bridge noted FCM was pushing for a $4 billion federal commitment on broadband over the next decade.

“They’ve certainly come close to that, if not exceeded it,” he said.

Bridge, who has also been working with the Western Ontario Warden’s Caucus on the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology initiative said extending broadband further into rural areas is imperative in today’s economy. 

“It’s another piece of infrastructure that is a necessity,” he stated. “You need to have rural broadband connectively to make sure the economy keeps rolling in our area.”

Linton said he is concerned about large federal deficits and possible overspending. 

“I mean every level of government has to get their spending under control so I like the idea, just as a Canadian, of our governments living within their means,” he added. 

However, Bridge said he’s less concerned about the deficit because so much of it is devoted to infrastructure projects.

 “If you’re doing it for infrastructure, it’s not as bad because you know you have to fix your infrastructure,” he said. “If your infrastructure gets worse and worse, your economy suffers because you can’t keep up.”

While the idea of doubling the gas tax fund may have municipalities feeling hopeful, Wellington-Halton Hills Conservative MP Michael Chong is sceptical. 

“The government is spending like crazy … but they’re not spending on fundamental things like infrastructure. That’s not based on my conclusion that is based on the parliamentary budget officer’s conclusion,” he explained.

“Today’s deficits are tomorrow’s higher taxes,” Chong said. 

“It all puts families in Wellington County under strain,” as many are already struggling with household costs.

Perth-Wellington Conservative MP John Nater echoed Chong’s sentiments in a press release calling the  budget a failure for the people of Perth—Wellington.

“I regularly hear from my constituents about how they feel squeezed by high taxes and the increasing cost of living. Families might be getting by, but they are not getting ahead,” Nater stated. 

Nater also stated that the budget did not go far enough with other promises. 

The Canadian Dairy Farmers applauded the promised $3.9 billion to compensate Canada’s dairy, poultry and egg sectors for the impact of concessions granted in the recent Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

But Nater said it is not enough. 

“The budget was silent on fixing the shortcomings of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, addressing the concerns over the suite of business risk management programs, solving ongoing export problems, or addressing issues caused by crop damage or livestock loss,” said Nater.

He concluded by stating, “This budget was a clearly-designed effort to buy the votes of Canadians in the next election with their own money.”

Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield agreed some items will become part of the Liberals’ election platform, but he stressed in this case the growth justified the deficits.

“When we were first elected, to say we were going to create 950,000 jobs, lift 825,000 people out of poverty get 300,000 kids out of poverty with the Canada child benefit … We could never have forecasted this kind of growth,” Longfield told the Advertiser.

“We are getting economic results that are showing us that what we are doing in investment is paying dividends in our communities,” he added. 

“It’s really a matter of getting our budget passed so that once we have the budget approved by the House of Commons and by the Senate then … some of the things we will be able to do immediately,” said Longfield.

“Some of them are going to take a few months to get in place, but we don’t want to miss the summer construction season so we are going to putting a priority on the municipal projects.”

Despite the Conservative Party’s backlash on the budget, Longfield said municipalities maintain a good relationship with the federal government.

He added he looks forward to working with Wellington County’s MPs and MPPs going forward. 

“I am really glad to see how closely the county and Guelph municipal council are working,” said Longfield.

“I think the relationship is better than it has been for years. 

“We are all trying to serve the same people.”

– With files from Patrick Raftis and Chris Daponte