Timmins Chamber has mixed reaction to reintroduced 2014 provincial budget


Date:  7/14/2014
ArticleType:  Press Release

TIMMINS, July 14, 2014—Though Timmins businesses may benefit from the Ontario Government’s reintroduced 2014 budget, its lack of long-term solutions for energy and Northern infrastructure is a concern, according to the Timmins Chamber of Commerce.

The July 14 presentation of the 2014 provincial budget by Finance Minister Charles Sousa reintroduced that which the Liberal government initially proposed on May 1, and includes several items relevant to the Timmins area, such as: 

  • $1 billion in potential infrastructure investment in the Ring of Fire;
  • $13.9 billion for transportation infrastructure for areas outside the GTHA, including funding for bus and rail infrastructure for the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission;
  • More financial incentives for small businesses to participate in conservation initiatives;
  • Lowering the threshold for large industrial consumers to participate in special energy-cost-saving programs;
  • More than $130 billion in infrastructure spending over 10 years, and
  • A new $25-million Aboriginal Economic Development Fund.

“Although we have some concerns about this budget, we have to acknowledge that it contains some items of significant interest for Timmins businesses,” said Phil Barton, president of the Timmins Chamber of Commerce.

“There are some obvious big-ticket items relating to enhancing mining in the North, which is of course badly needed, but there are a number of other significant additions, such as the enhancement of bus and rail for the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.”

The most obvious appeal for Northern Ontario is the proposed $1 billion in funding for infrastructure in the Ring of Fire, located in northwestern Ontario’s James Bay Lowlands. Although the province-wide benefits of this project will ripple into Timmins, the lack of infrastructure stands as a major barrier to its progress.

While the federal government has yet to make its own commitments, the Timmins Chamber holds that all levels of government must partner with the private sector and area First Nations communities to make this project a reality.

The budget also offers some measures to offset energy rates for small and large businesses alike. The expansion of the Industrial Conservation Initiative program will allow more large industrial firms to participate and save upwards of 20 percent on their energy bill; conversely, small businesses will be able to save through the province’s streamlining and expansion of its saveONenergy program.

However, these advantages are simply short-term solutions for a much longer-term problem, said Barton, as the cost of energy is still projected to rise sharply in the coming years -- and the 2014 budget fails to address that issue.

The budget also fails to address key provincial issues that have stood as a major concern for the Timmins Chamber in recent years, such as the failure to reinstate the much-needed Connecting Link program. This program helped to fund up to 90% of construction and maintenance of provincial highways that run through municipalities, and its cancellation in 2013 has left Timmins struggling to maintain this crucial infrastructure.

As well, the budget did not indicate any intention to halt the ongoing sale of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission’s (ONTC) telecommunications arm, Ontera, to Bell Aliant. The lack of details surrounding the sale are disconcerting, said Barton, as a similarly rushed effort to divest the ONTC as a whole was later proven by the Ontario Auditor General to cost Ontario taxpayers in excess of $800 million.

“There is some good news in the budget, but we have some strong concerns about what it specifically fails to address,” said Barton. “We sincerely hope that when it comes to providing improvement on topics such as energy pricing, the province will work with businesses and the affected communities on finding sustainable and competitive solutions.”

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce also had some concerns for the 2014 provincial budget, referring to it as a “two-steps back” budget for businesses.

In particular, the organization held out strong criticism for the budget’s proposal to increase spending, the deficit, and overall debt. Specifically, the budget would increase government spending from $127 billion to $130 billion, growing the deficit from $11.3 billion to $12.5 billion over the same period. The overall debt will grow to $289.3 billion by the end of 2014-2015, and $317.2 billion by the end of 2016-2017. This increases the province’s debt-to-GDP ratio to an “alarming” 40.3 percent by 2014-2015.

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About the Timmins Chamber of Commerce
With 800 members, the Timmins Chamber of Commerce is one of the largest accredited chambers of commerce with distinction in northeastern Ontario. As the “Voice of Business in Timmins” since 1949, our advocacy and policy initiatives focus on ensuring a positive business climate in the City of Timmins.

Contact:
Nick Stewart
Manager of Policy, Research and Communications
Timmins Chamber of Commerce
(705) 360-1900
policy@timminschamber.on.ca