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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Feds promise $12 million for Lake Simcoe

Patrick Brown couldn’t be happier.

The federal Conservative government tabled its 2007 budget Monday afternoon, a budget described as targeted at middle-urban Canada, and as far as Tory MP Brown is concerned, Barrie came out a big winner.
The biggest announcement to affect Barrie directly is the commitment of $12 million over the next two years for the cleanup of Lake Simcoe.
“Lake Simcoe is the heart of the community. It is part of the strategic goals of the City of Barrie to clean up the lake,” said Brown, who formerly sat on city council. “This is the largest one-time investment in the history of Canada made (for) Lake Simcoe. I’m ecstatic about that.”
Brown knew he was in for good news when on the way to the House of Commons, Environment Minister John Baird whispered to him that it was a good day for Lake Simcoe and for Barrie.
“If you look at the pillars of this community, the waterfront investment is a massive win, but the investment in health care will also enable RVH to do more,” he said, referring to the $2.6-billion health-care investment. An additional $600 million has been promised to reduce patient wait times.
Not every politician from Barrie was as content with the budget. Jeff Lehman, councillor for Ward 2 and a local Liberal, joined his party in panning the budget.
“I am disappointed Prime Minister Harper did not give municipalities a percentage of the GST. That would have been the right thing to do,” he said.
“I’m very pleased to see they’ve seen the wisdom of the previous government’s position to give municipalities some of the gas-tax revenue. That’s very important for Barrie taxpayers. It funds many important things, like public transit. We all want to expand transit.”
Lehman added transit helps municipalities to become environmentally sustainable.
Brown also sees the extension of the gas-tax rebate as a plus for Barrie. The rebate, which provides $2.2 million annually to the city for infrastructure projects, is equivalent to a two-per-cent tax increase according to Brown. (A one-per-cent increase in taxes is equivalent to approximately $1 million).
The federal budget comes just as Barrie city council, which has been under increasing pressure to control tax increases while still providing services, began deliberations on its 2007 operating budget Monday night.
Much of the pressure on local taxes comes from the downloading of services from the province when transfer payments from the federal government were cut in the 1990s. In the budget, the Conservatives plan to rectify the fiscal balance by providing $39 billion over seven years to the provinces. Brown believes that the efforts to alleviate the imbalance should help to relieve some of the pressure felt by municipalities.
“I hope it would trickle down (to the municipalities),” said Brown, “It’s a huge federal investment. It shouldn’t be a trickle-down, it should be a waterfall.”
This budget was aimed at middle-urban Canada and for Brown that means Barrie. “Every new investment area, whether it’s health care, the environment, taxes or transit, (they’re) all the areas that Barrie falls into.”
Both the NDP and the Liberals came out quickly to say they wouldn’t support the budget but the Bloc Quebecois gave it their support, likely avoiding a spring election.
“I don’t think we’ll have an election,” said Brown, shortly after the budget had been released. “I think this budget will be popular with Canadians. It’s good for the provinces and good for the cities. It would be out of sync with the people they (opposition parties) represent to force an election.”

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