For the second time this month, the Conservative government has bypassed Ontario's infrastructure wish list and announced up to $18.4-million in funding for a project in a Tory MP's riding.
Wednesday's announcement of the expansion of an aerospace program at Centennial College under the New Building Canada Fund was made without any consultation or involvement from the province, Ontario's Liberal government said.
Ontario officials only discovered the infrastructure event was planned for Wednesday morning in a press release they spotted on Tuesday.
Ontario Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid told The Globe and Mail this smacks of electioneering. "The federal government is obviously concerned about the seats here in this province and making announcements accordingly, completely cutting out any communication with us prior to the announcements being made," Mr. Duguid said.
Stephen Harper's Conservative government is poised to call an election, which must be held by Oct. 19. Ontario is considered a key battleground for votes.
Mark Adler is the rookie Conservative MP for York Centre, the riding where the announcement was made. Finance Minister Joe Oliver, Toronto Mayor John Tory and Centennial College vice-president Brad Chapman also attended.
Premier Kathleen Wynne's government is not popular with the federal Conservatives. Her government made $2.5-billion in requests under the new fund – nominating nearly 115 projects – and believed it would be consulted about which ones would go forward. It also expected that the projects would be jointly announced.
So far, this has not been the case. Earlier this month, federal Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel announced a $26.9-million contribution to a new research building at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, which is located in Durham where three Tory-held ridings converge.
After that surprise announcement, Mr. Duguid sent a letter to Mr. Lebel asking the federal government to "immediately cease from making any further unilateral announcements tied to the province's guaranteed allocation under the Building Canada Fund as it reduces funding from other provincial infrastructure priorities."
Less than a week after Mr. Duguid sent his letter, the Centennial College announcement was made. By Wednesday afternoon, officials from Mr. Duguid's office were on the phone with Mr. Lebel's office, reiterating their concerns about being excluded.
They asked for a "heads-up" on future announcements, according to a senior provincial official, but the federal officials were non-committal.
Mr. Duguid says the Conservative government's approach to infrastructure funding is "disappointing" and "disrespectful," especially given it set up the process.
The Ontario government announced in 2013 up to $26-million for the same Centennial College project.
Mr. Duguid says he was an advocate of the aerospace expansion then, and still is. However, he says the federal government's unilateral style is causing confusion. It's not clear from the announcement when or how the money will be distributed, he notes.
He says it calls into question "whether they are actually making a real commitment or actually making an announcement."
His focus for the Building Canada Fund is transit projects. The Ontario government has committed $31.5-billion over 10 years to transit infrastructure projects. The federal government's decisions to fund other projects means some of Ontario's priority projects will have to be dropped.
Andrew Petrou, executive director of Downsview Aerospace Innovation and Research at Centennial College, says the college was given just a couple of days' warning and wasn't sure exactly how much money the federal government was planning to announce.
Mr. Lebel's spokesperson, Michele-Jamali Paquette, wrote in an e-mail that "a solid majority of the projects proposed by the Wynne government" have been approved.