On Tuesday, February 9 our relatively new Member of Parliament, Mark Gerretsen, held his pre-budget consultation with the public at Memorial Hall in City Hall. Considering how poorly advertised the event was, a pretty good crowd was in attendance.
Gerretsen introduced the event with a slide which showed three pockets of money, each holding $20B to be spent over the next decade: one pocket for public transit, one for social infrastructure, and one for green infrastructure. He made it very clear that the first wave of infrastructure funding from the feds will be for repairs and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure, not for any new infrastructure. He spoke directly to the mayor (who was present for the first part of the meeting), and told him that there was not going to be money for the third crossing in the near future. Presumably this was not the reason for the mayor’s early departure from the meeting: nonetheless, he left Ryan Boehme behind to argue for the third crossing later in the meeting.
During the Q&A portion of the event, people stood up to talk about nearly every issue currently on the radar of Kingston residents: urban and rural transit, environmental protection, the TPP, climate change, social housing, hospital funding, Internet for rural communities, indigenous issues, the arts, pipelines, and the prison farms. More than any other issue, the third crossing was part of the conversation.
Our MP said repeatedly that he will do what the municipality asks but that he is not currently fighting for third crossing funding; he will do so when the municipality directs him to do so, as long as the project is shovel-ready. “I’m not currently in Ottawa advocating for a third crossing because the city is not at that stage yet,” he said. “I will advocate on behalf of the city once the city formally makes that decision. When the city finally says: ‘Yes, we are going ahead with the third crossing.’ If they do that, then I see it as my role to advocate.” When asked a question about whether the Feds would continue to maintain the LaSalle Causeway were they to help fund another bridge, he didn’t have an answer. He advised the municipality quite forcefully not to take over the LaSalle Causeway, given its age and the $1.5M annual maintenance budget. He suggested that smaller projects might meet with more success in requests for funding.
Gerretsen’s message was clear: there will be no federal funding for new infrastructure in the next several years. Our new federal government is echoing what WellingtonX has been saying all along: invest in transit and existing infrastructure, not new roads. Let’s plan for a city without the Wellington Street Extension.
— Anne Lougheed