TORONTO, Ont. — Ontario finance minister, Dwight Duncan, tried to put the best face on Ontario’s current economic challenges by calling for continued but modest growth. The budget focused on tax measures to assist the beleaguered manufacturing sector, re-training for displaced manufacturing workers, and infrastructure investment for short-term job creation and long-term competitiveness.
During his budget speech, Minister Duncan said that a new border crossing for Windsor is, “perhaps our most important infrastructure undertaking.” The budget reiterated that Ontario will fully fund its share of the costs of the final proposed road link between Highway 401 and the new border crossing. Sufficient funds to cover the costs of the project are built into the government’s 10-year infrastructure plan. The Detroit River International Crossing Study is expected to provide recommendations very soon on a new crossing and access road. Minister Duncan said construction is scheduled to begin in 2009 and finish by 2013.
Also included in the budget is a $1 billion investment in municipal roads and bridges, and $448 million in new funding over the next five years to accelerate projects to rehabilitate bridges that are part of the provincial highway network. The budget also makes progress on commitments included in the ReNew Ontario plan, with overall investments of $927 million in 2008-09 in the Southern Ontario Highways Program and $557 million in the Northern Ontario Highways Program. Improvements to Highway 17 will be addressed with this funding, and include the addition of new passing lanes, intersections and new curbs and illumination.
The provincial budget is also committing $1.5 billion to a three-year plan to get more Ontarians into well-paying jobs and into long-term training for new job opportunities. “How much if any of these funds will flow to the Ontario Truck Driver Apprenticeship Program remains to be seen at this time,” said Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) president David Bradley.
Finally, the budget says that Ontario will also work with industry on the “innovation and transformation of key sectors (that) will be critical to moving to a prosperous low-carbon economy. The government will continue to take action through its policies and initiatives on reducing GHG emissions created by buildings, land use, transportation and industry.” Whether this signals the government is prepared to work with the trucking industry on its enviroTruck initiative, for example, remains to be seen.
In addition, OTA is lobbying to revise the interpretation for fuel tax used to power idling reduction devices on commercial vehicles under the Fuel Tax Act. Currently, the Ministry of Finance deems fuel used for such equipment to be for personal use, so tax paid on that fuel is not refundable. OTA is lobbying Finance with the position that auxiliary equipment used in trucking, such as idling reduction arguing that in-cab heaters, APUs, etc., perform a business function.
The budget was silent on this matter but deep in the technical amendments it was stated that “to maintain the integrity and equity of Ontario’s tax and revenue collection system, as well as enhance legislative clarity and regulatory flexibility to preserve policy intent, legislation will be proposed, including amendments to (a number of acts including the) Fuel Tax Act.”
“We did not have unrealistic expectations for this budget,” said Bradley. “It was clear very early on in the process that the provincial government seemed to have lost its appetite for discussing things like PST-MJVT-GST harmonization. There is still a lot of work to do and OTA will continue to press its case with innovative solutions. We’re far from done.”
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