3 budget items that matter to Ottawa

Every federal budget has an impact in Ottawa because of the city's standing as the nation's capital, and some Canada-wide measures — such as the creation of the Canada Job Grant fund — are sure to have an impact in the city and the region.

But here are three budget items we think deserve special mention for the people of Ottawa:

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson had been calling on the federal governement to dedicate money to help the city clean up sewage from the Ottawa River. Federal officials said Ottawa had chosen to use its infrastructure money on the light-rail transit plan.

In response, Watson pushed for the indexing of the gas tax funds that go into municipal infrastructure, and the budget delivers.

Now, instead of offering cities $2 billion annually from the gas tax, the federal government will offer $2 billion the first year, then increase the amount at a rate of two per cent annually.

Watson said for a city like Ottawa, it means an additional $238 million over and above what they would have expected over the next 10 years.

Now cleaning the Ottawa River can again be a priority, Watson said.

"With today's budget, the dream of a clean Ottawa River is finally within reach," said Watson.

With Ottawa getting ready to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, the Department of Canadian Heritage has taken over events such as Canada Day and Winterlude from the National Capital Commission.

The government wants to ensure "a broad, national perspective is brought to these celebrations," according to the budget.

The NCC was given control of promotion of the region back in 1988, but with the move, some 60 to 80 workers will move to Canadian Heritage.

The NCC will still act as a landowner in the region.

Watson welcomed the move, and said he suggested it last year. But Ian Lee from Carleton University's Sprott School of Business said he was skeptical.

"The way I like to put it is the NCC has saved us repeatedly from the City of Ottawa, the machinations and the administrative failures from the City of Ottawa, over many, many years," said Lee.

Though it is short on specifics, the budget says it wants to put sick leave and disability benefits for public servants on the table, with an eye to reducing costs and getting sidelined employees back to work sooner.

The message to public sector unions also made an ominous reference to plans to examine employee compensation and pensioner benefits and propose "changes to the labour relations regime."

For the city's thousands of public servants, the message appears to be an opening salvo for labour negotiations set to begin in 2014.

Union leaders appeared more confused than concerned, however.

Public Service Alliance of Canada national president Robyn Benson said she believes the government is trying to get the public talking about sick days so they don't notice the decline in services.

"That's what they are up to, it's about smoke and mirrors and not being transparent," said Benson.

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