Municipal leaders in this province say it’s too early to tell how the federal budget will affect towns and cities.
Without having read the 500-page document — and with little for municipalities in the highlights — four mayors contacted by The Telegram Thursday said they were limited on what they could say.
“You can only draw assumptions because you don’t have any details,” said Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador president Churence Rogers, the mayor of Centreville-Wareham-Trinity. “Right now, I don’t see any significant impact on municipalities.”
Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms agreed.
“As they say about everything, the devil is in the details,” he said.
But Conception Bay South Mayor Woodrow French added that it’s not a “jump for joy type of budget to say the least.”
“I’ve got a funny feeling it’s going to be tough on municipalities and that’s a gut feeling that I’ve got based on all the little tidbits that came out,” French added.
Rogers said there were two things he was watching for: information on a long-term infrastructure funding strategy for communities and any cuts to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) which could hurt local economic development.
“Small municipalities ... are challenged financially and have very limited human resources to dedicate to economic development,” he said.
According to Liberal MP Judy Foote, $18 million has been cut from ACOA, a 21 per cent reduction in its budget, but no details on those cuts were given.
Rogers did say Ottawa promised in November to work with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on a new long-term infrastructure plan for municipalities, to replace the current Building Canada fund which expires in 2014. While, he said that process is still 14 months from completion, he thought there might be some mention of it in the budget.
The only detail The Telegram could find in the 26-page budget highlights related to municipal infrastructure was a $150-million commitment — over two years — for a new community infrastructure fund for “repairs and improvements to existing community facilities.”
St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe called that amount “a drop in the bucket.”
“In St. John’s alone ... we’re looking at somewhere around $100 million to $125 million worth of (infrastructure) projects,” he said.
French noted the infrastructure deficit across the country is estimated at $125 billion.
Simms said the meagre amount tells him Ottawa is admitting it has a role to play in helping towns and cities, but he said it also says “it’s not going to be much of a role.”
The mayors also raised other issues about the budget in general that has them concerned, including 19,200 job cuts in the civil service over the next three years.
“You can’t cut 19,000 jobs across this country and not impact ... service levels and quality of life,” said O’Keefe. “We won’t see how that shoe ... kicks (this province) in the behind until we actually see specifically where the job losses are going to be.”
O’Keefe, Rogers and French also noted there was nothing in the budget for the affordable housing “crisis.”
The mayors also agreed the federal government led people to believe the cuts in the budget were going to be much deeper than they actually were.
“(Ottawa) never really had any intention of cutting $8 billion out of (its) discretionary spending (nor) had any intention to lay off 60,000 civil servants,” said Simms, who called it a public relations plot. “Had they not had those rumours in the (media) in the first place, everybody would be looking at this and saying, ‘My God, this is terrible.’”
“You look at it and say, ‘Well, that’s not so bad after all,’” added Rogers. “But ... tell that to the 19,000 Canadians out there who are going to lose their jobs over the next three years.”
“They’ve been sounding the cut-back bell and the doom and gloom for the last short while,” agreed O’Keefe. “They (were) hoping the reaction (would) be a sigh of relief rather than an analysis of the cuts that are there.”