SAULT STE. MARIE -- While it's the lone reference to northern Ontario in the federal government's latest budget, the promise to work toward making FedNor a standalone agency is being welcomed by mayors in the north.

Nearly five years after mayors from five of the largest communities in northern Ontario submitted an official request to make FedNor its own agency, the federal government said it would do just that in its massive budget announced Monday.

"I was happy to see the reference in the budget," said Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano. "So we'll see what that looks like, but leaders in northern Ontario have been asking for this for years."

Provenzano said the commitment is hopefully the first step in raising its profile to match that of similar economic development agencies.

"I think it's important to treat it the same way we treat these other economic development agencies that are meant to help to and assist regions that could certainly use a hand," he said. "But it's only a first step, so we'll see what happens after this."

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald shared similar sentiments.

McDonald said he hopes the move will help address funding issues all mayors across the north have had with FedNor, which he described as being "chronically underfunded."

"If you look at the Heritage Fund, which we compare to, that's $100 million a year and FedNor is in around $45 million," he said. "So we're hopeful that the federal government will at least match the Heritage Fund with $100 million and we hope it will go a long ways."

Both mayors said they were also pleased with the $12 billion package to further help businesses struggling through the pandemic.

Parliament will continue to debate the budget for the remainder of the week.