THUNDER BAY – The city's mayor is paying more attention to what wasn't mentioned in the provincial budget, rather than any of the new changes.
Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government laid out the first budget of their mandate, with Finance Minister Vic Fedeli tabling Ontario's financial blueprint in Queen's Park on Thursday.
The spending plan, which includes a new Childcare Access and Relief from Expenses tax credit and dental care for low-income seniors, also introduces rebranded Ontario licence plates and official government logo, along with eliminating a number of regulations for sale and consumption of alcohol.
But absent was any mention of the replacement to the Thunder Bay District Jail, expanded cardiovascular surgery at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre or plans to either continue highway four-laning between Thunder Bay and Nipigon or revamping the Thunder Bay Expressway.
That lack of commitment concerns Thunder Bay mayor Bill Mauro, who said he has more questions than answers.
"We have to remain hopeful. We don't know for sure," Mauro said at city hall on Friday.
"I'm trying to remain optimistic and positive about it, remembering that some of these pieces were good policy pieces for us. Like the cardiac surgery, for the obvious reasons. But associated with that were 60 to 70 really good, high-paying jobs as well. Health care outcomes are very important for us, obviously, but there's an economic piece to this as well. To back up the angioplasty program, the two of those would have represented 120 jobs combined. If it doesn't happen, there are 60 to 70 of those that aren't going to appear here in Thunder Bay."
The previous Liberal provincial government, of which Mauro was a longtime member and cabinet minister, had promised the new jail, cardiac surgery and had completed half of the highway twinning and undergone significant planning to prepare for eventual overhaul intersections along the expressway.
Mauro and Coun. Brian McKinnon, the chair of the city's intergovernmental affairs committee, were among a city delegation that had returned from the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in January with an assurance from provincial government officials that the new jail was a "done deal."
"We don't know for sure the new jail isn't coming just because it wasn't mentioned," Mauro said.
The government's budget document includes a section on fighting gun and gang violence, which repeats a previous $25 million contribution to the Toronto Police Service and has a pledge of $2 million for the Ottawa Police Service. The province is also planning to spend $16.2 million over two years to develop an Ontario-wide strategy to combat gun and gang violence.
"I'm not sure if we'll get any of that and if we do it's program money, it's not core money," Mauro said.
The Ford government also pumped the brakes on the Liberals' plan to increase provincial gas tax funding for municipalities. For about eight years, Thunder Bay had been receiving about $2 million annually from the province through the tax, though it was intended to be doubled by 2021.
"For Thunder Bay, that would have meant another $500,000 per year," Mauro said. "So from the $2 million to $2.5 (million), to $3 (million), ending up at $4 million and now that's been put on hold or cancelled."
As well, Mauro said the city had received confirmation from the government in the last few weeks that the city's allocation through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund would be lowered by $1.1 million, which is more than the $900,000 city administration had forecasted during this year's budget process.
Another provincial funding envelope for municipalities – the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund – remains under review.