Northern resources, the highlight of Ontario’s budget
Continuing to put the region's critical mineral supply in the spotlight, northern Ontario and its critical mineral deposits are front and centre in the provincial government's 2023 budget.
Promising “multigenerational opportunities” for northern and First Nations communities, economic development minister and Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli said growth is the goal.
"It’s everything we said would happen,” Fedeli said in an interview.
“There’s money for critical minerals, there's money for skills development – which we're going to need the training, to be able to link the mines of the north with the production in the south."
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Investing in infrastructure
Heavy focus on major infrastructure projects like highways, schools and hospitals – with around $184 billion making up a large majority of the $204.7 billion budget – and business supports to help get the province into the electric vehicle market more quickly.
It has Timmins’ business community excited, as exploration companies work to tap into large nickel deposits in the area.
The Timmins Chamber of Commerce told CTV News that the budget’s extra money for social issues will only help that along even more.
"Housing, mental health, homelessness, you know, these … are factors within our community that affect our businesses, that we want to see positive change on,” said the chamber’s vice president, Kraymr Grenke.
Hardly any new money for northeastern roads, however, focusing more on projects down south and developing the Ring of Fire area.
The 186-page budget document mentioned work to widen parts of Highways 11 and 17, although outside of the northeast. It also highlighted prior road resurfacing and a replaced bridge west of Timmins.
No mention of any new money for roads within the region, including the long-called-for completion of the widening of Highway 69. The document did reiterate the improvement of highway snow clearing standards on Hwy 11 and 17 to have them at bare pavement within 12 hours.
The budget calls for an extra $5 million to improve the far north’s winter roads—along with $11 million to bring more internet connectivity to northern and First Nations communities.
The budget also touted a doubled Community Infrastructure fund to $2 billion over five years, highlighting its prior help in rejuvenating North Bay’s Main Street and upgrade Timmins’ water and sewer system.
A ‘typically Conservative’ budget
Nipissing political science professor David Tabachnick called this a relatively boring budget, in terms of immediate results, mainly focusing on economic potential.
"Looking really into the future, significant plans, at least, for infrastructure spending in northern Ontario,” said Tabachnick.
It’s a welcome budget for conservatives, he said, given a forecast of higher than expected revenue and projections of a balanced check book by 2025.
But for those currently struggling with inflation and higher bills, the province isn’t willing to offer short-term help, Tabachnick said.
With inflation appearing to slow down, he said the province is likely banking on those issues resolving themselves.
"The government is not going to, necessarily, bring in a bunch of new programs to … provide immediate relief,” said Tabachnick.
And for healthcare, the province is favouring boosting capacity, training and incentives, over wages.
An expanded Learn and Stay grant will cover tuition and other expenses for students in nursing, paramedicine and medical laboratory programs, if they agree to work in the area they studied in for a set period. An incentive program for veterinarians also offers loan repayment support, in exchange for working in underserved areas.
Meanwhile, the province continues to fight to keep its one per cent cap on public sector wage increases in place.
NDP MPP for Nickel Belt and provincial health critic France Gelinas also expressed disdain for a continued push to fund private-sector healthcare. She said primary care, home care and autism services continue to be underfunded.
Gelinas said the province could have made room to better fund these and other services, even through its now $4 billion reserve fund.
"So that elderly people get the home care they need to stay home, so that we can open up more nurse practitioner-led clinics and more community health centres,” said Gelinas.
She called this a typically conservative budget, looking to the future while leaving people struggling in the present.
‘There’s great investments,’ says Fedeli
Fedeli responded to critics by highlighting that economic development and more jobs will pave the way forward, but noted that the budget did add new money for social programs.
That being around $425 million for mental health and addiction services and over $200 million for supportive housing and homelessness programs.
"There's great investments … in youth, in job creation, in seniors,” he said.
Political analysts speculate that Doug Ford’s conservative government could be holding back on more exciting funding that will directly affect voters, including northerners, until the next election year.
The conservatives only announced $75 million dollars to help Timmins with its connecting link reconstruction after winning the historically NDP riding and boasted that funding in its 2022 budget.
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