Wednesday, February 28, 2007

dion's pitch

Dion make gas-tax transfer pledge but doesn't commit on one-cent GST request
February 27, 2007

A federal Liberal government would make permanent the current five-year deal that transfers a portion of the gas tax to municipalities, party leader Stephane Dion said Tuesday while stopping short of agreeing to fork over one cent of the GST to cities.

In an election-style speech to delegates attending a summit on Toronto's future, Dion pledged that, as prime minister, he would make research and development, immigration, public transit and the working poor a priority. Dion suggested he wouldn't be able to honour such commitments if he agreed to a one-cent GST transfer that he said would take some $5.5 billion out of federal coffers.

On Monday, Toronto Mayor David Miller called on Ottawa to provide permanent funding for cities by giving them one cent of every six cents collected through the GST.

While Dion said he's sympathetic to mayors who rely on property taxes which don't "grow at the same speed as the economy" for revenue, he called a permanent gas-tax transfer a "good first step."

"Our cities and communities need stable, long-term commitments, with predictable funding," Dion told conference delegates, noting it would give cities an extra $2 billion a year.

"Our federal and provincial governments don't make decisions based on short-term commitments, and neither does the private sector. We shouldn't ask our cities to do what we wouldn't do ourselves."

Dion cast himself as a prime minister who would "fight" to ensure the municipalities had their needs met "on transit and other infrastructure needs."

"I will work with your mayors and understand their challenges and need for real financial partnership over the long-term."

In his speech, Dion also urged the Conservatives to help the poor by funding the working income-tax benefit, which supplements the wages of low-income earners, to the $2.25-billion over five years proposed by the Liberals two years ago.

He also called on the Harper government to reinstate the national day-care program and promised to invest $250 million a year to cover the indirect costs of university research - something he said the Harper government has slashed to just $40 million.

A Liberal government would also reinvest in financial assistance for post-secondary students, which Dion said the current government has cut by 70 per cent.

"For the GTA and other university regions to prosper, we need to reverse those cuts," he said. "We need to keep our universities first class universities in the world."

Dion was on TheHour with George. [yawn]