The Conservative government has skipped over Ontario's wish list of 106 infrastructure projects and instead announced millions of dollars toward expanding a university in a politically strategic area of the province.
As part of a recent wave of cash announcements from Ottawa's New Building Canada Fund, the government said on Wednesday that it will contribute up to $26.9-million for a new research building at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in the Durham Region.
The announcement was welcome news for the university, which says the money will allow it to start work on plans for a $100-million expansion.
But the Ontario government is fuming because Ottawa had asked the province for a list of priority projects and is now ignoring that list.
"This type of political, unilateral action goes against the federal government's own process within the provincial portion of the New Building Canada Fund," Ontario Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid said in a statement provided to The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Duguid said that, at Ottawa's request, the province submitted 106 priority projects, including highways, transit and clean water infrastructure, and is still waiting for a response on many of them. He called Wednesday's announcement "completely disingenuous" and said it means the university will expect the province to contribute to the project.
The campus is at the convergence of three federal ridings held by the Conservatives. It is currently within Whitby-Oshawa, but will be part of Durham under new boundaries that take effect for the fall election. Durham is represented by Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole, who took part in the announcement along with UOIT president Tim McTiernan.
Federal Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel said Ottawa has funded only two projects to date that were not on Ontario's list. He also suggested that money for some of the projects on the list will be announced soon.
"We are confident that the Province of Ontario will recognize the potential of this vital project and get on board. More announcements are coming in the near future with the Government of Ontario on additional infrastructure projects," Mr. Lebel said in a statement.
John MacMillan, the university's director of communications, said the project is to be built in stages. As a result, some parts could go ahead if the province does not commit additional funds.
"We're thankful for the federal government's support for this initiative," he said. "We have briefed the provincial government on it at lots of levels. … Certainly we would welcome support from the provincial government and municipal governments as well."
The $14-billion New Building Canada Fund was announced in the 2013 budget, but the federal government was slow to announce funding for specific projects. That has changed in recent weeks, as Conservative MPs across the country have made dozens of infrastructure announcements connected to the fund.
The 10-year infrastructure fund devotes $4-billion to national projects and allots a specific amount of money for each province. Ontario has been promised $2.7-billion over 10 years.
Last November, Finance Minister Joe Oliver said the roll-out of the fund was delayed because Ontario had not yet submitted a list of priority projects.
Wednesday's announcement is not the first time Ottawa has surprised the province with spending from the fund. The first project under the program was the pledge of $660-million for Toronto's planned Scarborough subway extension. Ontario said the money should come from the $4-billion national infrastructure fund, but Ottawa has rejected that request.