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Provincial budget provides encouragement, apprehension

The Wynne government’s election budget offered some goodies and uncertainties for Northern Ontario.

The Wynne government’s election budget offered some goodies and uncertainties for Northern Ontario.

Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce president Charla Robinson said new programs to reduce energy bills and the government’s billion-dollar Ring of Fire promise, contingent on federal matching dollars, presents “some good news” for local business.

“We must now work to convince the federal government to do the same.”

Investment in Toronto public transit bodes well for Thunder Bay’s Bombardier plant and money for Northern highways should provide jobs and growth for business.”

But the chamber is apprehensive about the proposed Ontario Retirement Pension Plan because of the burden it would place business with increased premiums.

The Timmins Chamber of Commerce responded that the “lack of long-term solutions for energy and infrastructure is a concern.”

“There are some obvious big-ticket items relating to enhancing mining in the North, which is of course badly needed, but there are a number of other significant additions, such as the enhancement of bus and rail for the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission,” said chamber president Phil Barton.

Although the benefits of the Ring of Fire will “ripple into Timmins,” the chamber is calling on all levels of government to partner with the private sector and First Nations to “make this project a reality.”

Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli said the budget puts Ontario in a “deeper debt hole” and will add to the province’s growing unemployment caused by government policies.

“Kathleen Wynne has been given a year to prove she was different than Dalton McGuinty, and yesterday she proved she was the same, if not worse.”

The Conservatives pointed that in the year since Wynne became premier, the debt has climbed to $290 billion, the highest in the country, and the deficit is increasing to $12.5 billion, “more than all other provinces combined.”

The Conference Board of Canada said the government will be challenged to keep to its fiscal plan.

Weak economic growth has left the province saddled with an $11.3-billion deficit in 2013–14 that’s expected to balloon to $12.5 billion 2014–15.

The Conference Board said all the government’s spending restraint is “back-end loaded,” but total program spending will eventually level off and fall by 2017–18.

By 2017–18, the government is counting on strong economic growth to shore up revenues.

Key items in the budget are a major new pension plan to be implemented in 2017, and new infrastructure spending.

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