Monday, February 29, 2016

Provincial Budget Good News for Niagara & Pelham

Finance Minister Sousa presenting the
2016 Provincial Budget, February 25.
There was a lot of excitement across Niagara and in Pelham last week following the release of the 2016 Provincial Budget.

First, in their Budget, released last Thursday, the Provincial Government committed to extending GO Rail service to Niagara. After submitting our formal business case last spring, all are thrilled to have this commitment in a significant Provincial document.

The budget states: "Subject to agreement with freight rail partners, two-way, all-day rail services on the. Kitchener and Milton GO corridors, and extension of GO rail service to Niagara and Bowmanville."

It’s as if the oft-repeated phrase of my colleague, Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, came true: “It’s not a question of ‘if’ GO rail comes to Niagara, it’s a question of ‘when’!”

And, while we don’t yet know when, Minister Jim Bradley, MPP St. Catharines and huge GO Rail Niagara advocate, explained last week that Transportation Minister Del Duca will provide more information before the end of June.

As we wait for that, we should keep in mind that it will take some time to get the Niagara GO business plan up-and-running. At best, the Province and Metrolinx could take some interim steps as early as next year; however, property acquisition, station construction, and track refurbishment for a run all-the-way to the Falls will take a couple of years. And, I wonder whether the opening of the Stoney Creek GO Station in 2019 will impact the plan for Niagara.

So, while we must keep pushing for GO Rail, I believe this announcement allows us now to concentrate on developing an integrated regional transit service. With our spring 2017 deadline approaching, I was pleased that the Region, in partnership with Welland, St. Catharines, and Niagara Falls, issued a request for proposals last week to help develop an integrated service.

Second, small municipalities like Pelham (with populations under 100,000) also heard great news in the Budget.

The Province announced it would triple – from $100 million to $300 million – the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) by 2018-19. This fund will provide predictable funds for critical infrastructure projects. And, importantly for Pelham, we also heard that the Province will no longer penalize growing municipalities with good fiscal records. You will recall that Pelham lobbied the Province for this change since they denied us funding last year because of our community’s high property values and high-quality infrastructure compared to other Towns.

The Province also committed to match the Federal government’s $272 million commitment for the jointly administered “Small Community’s Fund” to “help address local priorities and support economic growth.”

On behalf of Council, I thank the Province for the commitment to Niagara GO Rail and support of small communities like Pelham.