Infrastructure will feature in budget, Wynne says
Premier Kathleen Wynne and Steven Del Duca, minister of Transportation, ride the new UP Express from Union Station to Pearson airport Wednesday, April 22, 2015. (Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun)
The Ontario government will pop the cap off its newest budget Thursday, promising to deliver beer in grocery stores, sell off of a majority stake in Hydro One and rub out a stubborn operating deficit within two years.
While Premier Kathleen Wynne’s focus has been largely on beer and federal government bashing in the lead up to the budget, there will likely be other interesting details in the fine print.
“Stay tuned,” Wynne said Wednesday. “You haven’t seen the whole picture. There obviously are things in the budget that have not been announced.”
Building infrastructure such as transit will be “cornerstone” of the government’s economic plan, she said.
The premier criticized Stephen Harper’s budget, released Tuesday, which used the proceeds from the sale of GM shares acquired during the recessionary bailout of the auto sector to help eliminate the federal deficit.
The provincial government, which also ended up with GM shares, put that money into a Trillium Trust fund for infrastructure.
“That was a lost opportunity,” Wynne said of the federal budget. “We didn’t put that money to our bottom line; we put that money into our future bottom line, which is an investment in transit and in the economy.”
PC Interim Leader Jim Wilson said he hopes the budget will show a reverse in the trend under Wynne of growing operating deficits.
There has to be a credible plan to balance the province’s books, he said.
If the record-low interest rates don’t hold, and the buoyancy in the U.S. economy suggests they won’t, then Ontario’s current $11 billion in annual interest payments on debt could balloon to $20 billion in a few years, Wilson said.
The current debt-servicing obligation is already leading to cuts in nursing and special education teacher positions, and forcing the closure of schools, he noted.
“That will only get worse if we have to pay billions more each year on the debt,” Wilson said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she expects to see more details on the privatization of Hydro One — a move she opposes.
The government has announced it intends to sell off a 60% stake in the publicly-owned company, put $5 billion against electricity system debt and invest the remaining $4 billion in the Trillium Trust.
Horwath said she expects the Liberals will bring in more cuts to health care and education, something she said that Ontario families would not support.
“I’m worried that that’s what they’re going to get more of in this budget,” she said.