‘Ottawa’ Federal Budget: City Looks for LRT, Housing, Child Care Cash
Ottawa’s municipal leaders are banking on Wednesday’s federal budget to deliver millions for transit, housing and child care.
Council’s March 8 approval of the $3.6-billion Stage 2 LRT package brought the city another step closer to putting the project up for tender, but it still needs to secure federal funding, which Mayor Jim Watson hopes will happen before the end of May.
The Liberals committed $1 billion to the project during the 2015 election, but the city is also hoping to get an additional $150 million for the extensions to Trim Road and the Ottawa International Airport.
“We’re working with them now to find those dollars,” Watson said Monday.
The mayor is also looking to the federal government to increase social housing investments in order to build more units and put skilled labourers to work. “The quickest economic jolt to the economy is housing” because it doesn’t require a lot of approvals and long-term planning, Watson said. If the land and money are in place, shovels can get digging fast, he said.
The mayor pressed his case earlier Monday in a meeting with Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.
The city wants the federal government to maintain an annual $30 million grant for existing social housing agreements.
But it also wants the government to triple the amount it receives in the affordable housing program, up to $200 million per year, and expand funding to the social housing repair program to help address Ottawa Community Housing’s $22-million deferred maintenance backlog.
“We said, ‘Anything you can do to help us repair that backlog would be helpful,’” said Coun. Mark Taylor, the mayor’s liaison on housing and homelessness issues, who also met with Duclos.
Watson said his housing request was steady, reliable and predictable funding, so the city could create a 10-year plan for building new units, repairing older ones and providing rent supplements to tenants.
Child care advocates, meanwhile, have been told to expect a long-term funding commitment in the budget.
Those in the sector with knowledge of the government’s thinking expect it will extend the $500 million pledged for fiscal 2017-18 into an annual commitment over 10 years from the federal social infrastructure fund. Spending $500 million a year would amount to a commitment of about $5 billion in child care funding over the decade that the fund is available.
“That is a giant step in the right direction,” said Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the city’s community and protective services committee.
More funding would create more spaces, the mayor added. “Any help that we can get is very much appreciated.”
The Liberal government sees the high cost of child care as an impediment that keeps some parents out of the workforce. The economic growth council advising Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recommended last month that the Liberals create a universal, subsidized child care program, similar to one in Quebec, as a way to boost the participation of women in the workforce.
Deans said the government must also define what it considers “affordable” when it comes to child care.
In Ottawa, licensed infant care costs $74 per day, while toddler care costs $59 per day ($1,480 and $1,180 per month, respectively).
“Those fees are pretty unaffordable for many, many families,” Deans said.
Reducing the cost of the 1,750 licensed toddler spaces in Ottawa by $10 per day, from $59 to $49, would cost an estimated $4.2 million annually, Deans said.
— With files from The Canadian Press