The federal government should quadruple the amount of money it doles out each year for infrastructure projects in Canada once it balances the books, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Wednesday.
Ottawa currently spends about half a per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product on infrastructure and should raise it to 2 per cent of GDP — or about $30-billion a year — she said at a conference with Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and other provincial and territorial leaders.
The federal Conservatives are proposing $70-billion for infrastructure over the next decade, Ms. Wynne said.
All levels of government have neglected these needs since the 1970s and the cracks are starting to show, she said. Congested roads and unreliable infrastructure are dragging down the economy.
“Politics certainly plays a part,” said the newly elected premier. “Election cycles don’t fit neatly around the time that it takes to move from planning to ribbon-cutting.”
She may not be premier when a project is completed, but that shouldn’t hold back any government from spending money that will create jobs and benefit future generations, she added.
Statistics Canada has reported that public investments in infrastructure produce gains in private sector productivity and lower businesses costs, Ms. Wynne said. When governments provide continuous funding for public infrastructure, the economy grows and they get a return on their investment.
If politicians are saving room in their budgets for immediate benefits like tax cuts, then infrastructure spending is especially vulnerable, she added, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to the Harper Conservatives’ plan to post a surplus ahead of the 2015 election to pay for past campaign promises, such as partial income-splitting for families.
But the Tories said their average annual spending on infrastructure has increased 300 per cent since they took office in 2006, supporting over 2,500 infrastructure projects this year.
Their $70-billion pledge is “the largest and longest federal infrastructure plan in our nation’s history,” Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel said in a joint statement with Finance Minister Joe Oliver.
“The Harper government’s support for public infrastructure has never been stronger and we are making these important investments while remaining on track to balance the budget next year.”