TORONTO, Ont. — The Ontario Liberals introduced a provincial budget this week that will punish energy consumers but invest more heavily into infrastructure.
Fuel will increase by 4.3 cents a litre under the province’s carbon cap-and-trade program, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050. Natural gas will also increase in price. The province says it will spend the $1.9 billion the program is expected to generate annually on GHG-reducing programs and initiatives.
The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) said in a release it sees an opportunity here for some of these funds to be directed towards helping the trucking industry adopt more environmentally friendly equipment such as natural gas-fuelled trucks and electric-powered engines and reefers.
The OTA welcomed the announcement the province will step up funding of key infrastructure projects over the next decade.
Infrastructure projects include: the creation of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in the Greater Toronto Area; the widening of a stretch of Hwy. 400 from eight to 10 lanes; the widening of a stretch of Hwy. 410 from six to 10 lanes; improved road maintenance and snow clearing on northern highways; and $550-million in additional spending on northern highways, including a four-lane expansion of Hwy. 69 south of Sudbury and Hwy. 11/17 east of Thunder Bay.
Small, rural and northern municipalities will also get more funding to shore up roads and bridges.
The province announced it will drop the $30 Drive Clean fee for emissions tests. It’s not yet clear if the break will be extended to commercial vehicles. The province vowed to streamline the issuing of superload permits for escort vehicles.
It also formally announced it is moving ahead with the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), which will be launched in 2018.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) panned the budget, accusing the Liberals of “taxing the jobs for tomorrow and today.” It noted 90% of small businesses in Ontario oppose the ORPP, with 70% of them claiming the plan will require them to freeze or cut staff salaries.
“Not only is the government completely ignoring small businesses’ ORPP concerns, it is also turning a blind eye on its own polling and research which clearly show that the ORPP will be a job killer,” said Plamen Petkov, CFIB’s Ontario vice-president. “Delaying the first wave of ORPP implementation by a year was a good move, but relying on potential cuts in workers’ compensation premiums to offset the ORPP impact is neither prudent nor sufficient. At a minimum the budget should have pushed back ORPP implementation for small and medium-sized employers, which are still set to be hit with the new pension tax in 2018 and 2019.”
Petkov also decried the cap-and-trade scheme, which he said will allow major polluters to “play a credit trading shell game,” while small businesses shell out more for fuel and heating.
Ontario, through its 2016 budget, will incur a $4.3-billion deficit, bringing its total debt to $308.3 billion.