Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is calling for a comprehensive national infrastructure plan and demanding the federal government get involved to make it happen.
In a speech to the Canada 2020 think-tank at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier Wednesday evening, Ms. Wynne said the best way to create jobs and boost the nation’s economy is by massively expanding public transit, building roads and bridges, and upgrading other infrastructure across the country.
And she vowed to put the issue on the agenda when she chairs the Council of the Federation meetings with other provincial premiers next month.
“It is time for our transportation networks to receive the support and attention they deserve from the federal government – not only to unlock gridlock, but to invest in jobs and economic prosperity in our time,” she said.
Ms. Wynne’s government has already laid out a $50-billion master plan for building new subway and commuter train lines in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, and she said the same must be done for infrastructure in smaller centres.
Some towns, she said, have gone for so long without new infrastructure dollars that their bridges cannot carry buses and their water supply systems have not been upgraded in 100 years.
“The lack of adequate investment is choking out those future possibilities in some of these small communities, just as it is paralyzing our urban and economic hubs,” she said.
The federal government committed $53-billion to infrastructure earlier this year, but Ontario contends its approach is too piecemeal. Under the federal model, municipalities or provinces would receive the money on a project-by-project basis.
Instead, Ms. Wynne wants a more detailed plan that ensures continuous funding from the federal government every year.
Federal officials, meanwhile, contend that their model is more flexible, leaving planning up to local governments while Ottawa simply helps fund their projects.
The Premier has been steadily ramping up the pressure on the federal government over the past month, with three of her ministers asking their federal counterparts to sit down with them to hash out an agreement.
Ms. Wynne said Ontario’s spending on infrastructure has already pumped billions of dollars into the economy, and pointed specifically to the Thunder Bay, Ont., plant that is building the trains that will run on Toronto’s Eglinton light-rail line.
But if more is not built, she said, the province risks falling behind globally.
“You look around the world and at the regions that are setting the economic agenda – those are the ones that are investing in infrastructure,” she said. “If we want to put Ontario on the map, we need to draw a line in the sand.”