Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne continued her roll-out of budget items with a pledge to hand small towns across the province $100-million to build roads and bridges.
Standing next to Finance Minister Charles Sousa at a Barrie, Ont., truck stop Friday, the Premier said the money will be placed into a fund. Starting Oct. 1, small towns, rural communities and places in Northern Ontario can draw on it to pay for infrastructure.
“It will be distributed quickly and efficiently, it will create jobs,” she said.
The funds are the first step toward a longer-term transportation plan for the rural and northern reaches of the province, Ms. Wynne said. She said Infrastructure Minister Glen Murray and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal would begin talks with municipal leaders to find a way of committing dedicated, permanent annual funding toward their infrastructure.
“This fund is in direct response to what we’ve heard from municipalities over the last number of years,” she said. Previous funding for infrastructure has come in fits and starts: “It was ad-hoc That’s not good enough if we want stable economic growth.”
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario called the announcement a “positive step forward,” pointing out that municipalities own about 65 per cent of the province’s infrastructure but face an enormous, $60-billion backlog of construction and repairs, which are often funded through an inadequate property tax base.
“Building and maintaining roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure is essential to the future prosperity and safety of Ontario’s communities,” AMO President Russ Powers said in a statement.
NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson, who represents the northern riding of Timmins-James Bay, was cautiously optimistic.
“We’ll take this as good news for the day in the sense that at least it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “But time will tell if, in the details, it really is $100-million one time, that it’s new money and in fact it’s money that Northern Ontarians can use for much-needed infrastructure.”
Progressive Conservative MPP Rod Jackson, in whose riding Ms. Wynne made the announcement, chided the Liberals for using Barrie as a backdrop.
“Today demonstrated that the Liberal party of Toronto doesn’t have a solid grasp of rural nor Northern Ontario,” he said in a statement. “If you are making an announcement for small rural, northern communities, you should probably actually go to a small, rural, and northern community.”
Mr. Sousa presents his first budget next week. With the PCs vowing to vote against the document no matter what is contained in it, the minority Liberals will have to earn NDP support to avoid an election.