Ontario budget delivers nothing for Ottawa to cover transit, derecho costs

Continued reduced ridership has resulted in another transit deficit this year. The city was looking to the province to fill a $39 million shortfall, but that money is not in Thursday's budget. (Andrew Foote/CBC - image credit)
Continued reduced ridership has resulted in another transit deficit this year. The city was looking to the province to fill a $39 million shortfall, but that money is not in Thursday's budget. (Andrew Foote/CBC - image credit)

The provincial budget could provide Ottawa with millions of dollars for new supportive housing, but is silent on the city's request for many millions more to fund everything from a transit shortfall to derecho costs.

The Progressive Conservative budget tabled Thursday by Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy includes an additional $202 million a year for the Homelessness Prevention Program and Indigenous Supportive Housing Program.

Ottawa's share of the funding would be about $14 million on a per-capita basis, although it could be more.

"Supportive housing provides people in need with a roof over their heads," according to the budget document. "It also connects them with services that provide a hand up to improve their circumstances, including mental health support and job training."

But the 186-page budget was silent on Ottawa's – and other municipalities' – ask to fund transit deficits resulting from lower ridership due to the pandemic. OC Transpo is facing a $39-million red hole this year that it was looking to the province to fill.

When asked about funding transit deficits, finance officials speaking on background pointed to the $4 billion the province and federal government provided to municipalities as part of the COVID-19 "Safe Restart Agreement."

Bethlenfalvy was asked in a news conference about why there is no money in the budget for Toronto's budget shortfall. He reiterated the messages of the finance officials, but didn't completely shut the door on a future bailout.

"We need municipalities to do their part across the province, so we'll be working with cities on their financial challenges," the finance minister said.

Dean Purcell/Getty Images
Dean Purcell/Getty Images

The restart money provided for 2022 did not cover the city's $85-million transit shortfall last year, and the city had to find $22 million to make up the difference.

There was also no mention of compensating the city for the loss of revenue resulting from the province's controversial housing Bill 23 passed last fall. The legislation waives many fees charged by the city in order to make housing cheaper, but the city says it could be out $26 million a year.

While the province has said it would reimburse municipalities for the shortfall, it first wants to audit the planning process of select cities, but hasn't started yet.

The budget also made no mention of helping with $50 million of derecho expenses.

However, cities will get to share in an additional $110 million over three years to improve emergency preparedness, including a new emergency response fund to provide urgent relief for municipalities when an emergency arises.

Ronald McDonald House, Invest Ottawa get more funding

The budget pointed to many ongoing Ottawa projects that the province is funding, including the new Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital, widening Hwy 401 and 17 in eastern Ontario and expanding high-speed Internet in rural areas.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

There's also $13.4 million more for the Guns, Gangs and Violence Reduction Strategy, which would translate to less than $1 million for Ottawa.

But two local organizations are receiving brand new money in this budget.

The budget earmarks $3.1 million for Ottawa's Ronald McDonald House. The charitable organization, which houses and supports out-of-town families whose children are being treated at CHEO, is expanding so it can more than double its capacity.

The federal government contributed $9.2 million to the $18.9-million project last summer.

Ottawa's economic development agency is also getting a boost – and an expansion.

Invest Ottawa receives a little less than $5 million a year from the city for operations, and millions more from upper levels of government to help create jobs and spur innovation. In 2021 – the last year for which figures are available – the province gave Invest Ottawa $9.8 million.

In Thursday's budget, the province announced it would give Invest Ottawa an additional $1 million a year for the next three years to "expand into a Regional Innovation Centre hub for Eastern Ontario."