The Honourable Charles Sousa, Minister of Finance
7th Floor, Frost Building South
7 Queen’s Park Crescent
Toronto ON M7A 1Y7
Dear Mr. Sousa,
The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce wishes to thank you for your open approach to governance and for seeking input from the public and from community stakeholders across Ontario for the upcoming budget. The GNCC is the largest business organization in the Niagara region, and the third-largest Chamber of Commerce in Ontario. We represent over 1,500 members with 45,000 employees. We would like to present you with some suggestions for the provincial budget on behalf of the business community we represent.
The Government of Ontario’s plans for investment in infrastructure are commendable. We hope that this will be built upon in this budget, and in future budgets. The Building Ontario Up plan was an excellent step and the emphasis on investment outside the Greater Toronto Area is wise.
On that note, we would like to recommend that significant infrastructure funding be allocated to transit outside the GTA. Here in the Niagara region, we are facing serious challenges in our public transit system, which is split amongst several different commissions and which does not offer the service level which our residents, our students, and our employers need. The Brock University Students’ Union recently demonstrated to local politicians that a student in Hamilton must take a journey of over three hours to get to a class at Brock on public transit. The same journey takes perhaps thirty minutes by car. This is but one example of the deficiencies in transit outside the GTA.
The business community of Niagara wishes to see the region prosper, and an important part of that is an efficient public transit system that effectively meets the needs of its population, as other regions have also discovered. Niagara is part of the prosperous golden horseshoe, however, as a region on the periphery of the horseshoe it urgently needs better connections with the rest of the region to share in that prosperity. That also means better connections within the Niagara region.
We therefore ask that the Government of Ontario allocate funds in 2016 to helping Niagara with the increased costs of such a transit system, including a larger fleet of vehicles and increased staffing to allow more frequent and more extensive service. We would also like to ask for provincial funding to help the various transit authorities of Niagara amalgamate into a single authority, which has yielded good results in Niagara’s peer regions. We believe that these are necessary first steps in integrating Niagara with the larger economic region.
We would also like to reiterate Niagara’s case for all-day, year-round GO service. As laid out in the Niagara Region’s business case, the capital cost of this project would be under $150-million, with a benefit-cost ratio between 1.85 and 2.65. This investment will yield rewards well in excess of its cost, including the direct creation of 3,600 full-time jobs. The project is also aligned with existing Provincial plans, including the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the Government of Ontario’s commitment to infrastructure spending outside the GTHA. We are aware that an effective GO service would require upgrades and integration of Niagara’s existing transit systems, which is why we present our request for both together. St. Catharines Transit, for instance, has stated that if GO service were to come to St. Catharines, it could not effectively deal with the increased ridership without either additional funds, or service cuts.
We know that your government is committed to investment in Ontario’s infrastructure, and that you have committed to ensure that communities outside the GTHA are not neglected. These are laudable goals, and we are sure you will agree that our proposals align well with them. We hope that you will consider them in the 2016 budget.
President & CEO, Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce