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Public-private battleship: Oliver, Wynne trade barbs over funding

Peter Kenter
Public-private battleship: Oliver, Wynne trade barbs over funding

Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver says he’s a big fan of public-private partnerships. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is a staunch defender of the province’s Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP) model. But that didn’t prevent the two politicians from trading barbs at the 22nd annual Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships conference in Toronto.

Oliver told audiences recently that the federal government has about $11 billion in infrastructure funding ready to be delivered to the province of Ontario — but it’s waiting on Wynne to provide it with a list of the province’s preferred infrastructure projects.

"Unfortunately we are experiencing a delay under the provincial-territorial component of the New Building Canada Plan (NBCP)," he said. "The government of Ontario has yet to put forward its submission. We hope to receive it soon."

Under the NBCP, the federal government plans to invest more than $53 billion in infrastructure across the country in the 10-year period from 2014 to 2024. Ontario stands to collect $11 billion in dedicated federal funding, including more than $2.7 billion under the New Building Canada Fund (NBCF) launched in March, and an estimated $8.12 billion under the federal Gas Tax Fund. NBCF projects are subject to a P3 screen if they are budgeted at more than $100 million in eligible costs.

However, to qualify for funding under the NBCF, provinces and territories are required to identify priority projects to Infrastructure Canada. The program website notes here are no submission deadlines.

In response to Oliver’s comments, Wynne countered the finance minister’s contention that the province is dragging its feet.

"While it’s great to hear he’s suddenly eager to get on with the job, rhetorical enthusiasm does not build bridges, nor does it ease congestion," said Wynne. "Worse, suggestions that Ontario is holding up $11 billion worth of infrastructure projects has him playing some sort of blame game that really is not necessary."

Wynne said the province had sent the federal government a missive in June "to formalize how we will access these funds" but had heard nothing back.

"Although I understand that after Minister Oliver’s speech and after Minister (of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, Brad) Duguid responded, that we actually did get some response after four months," she said.

"And we’ve moved quickly on the municipal gas tax and the Small Communities Fund, both of which would need to be counted to reach the $11 billion plane and on neither of which Ontario has wasted a day."

Wynne called federal infrastructure programs targeted at Ontario "inadequate" to meet the province’s needs. While the provincial government has recently come under fire by critics and debt rating agency Moody’s for failing to reduce the flow of red ink at Queen’s Park, Wynne has set her eye on projected federal government surpluses.

"With every delay, Canada’s persistent infrastructure gap widens and economic growth narrows," she said. "So the sum total of that is we need a federal partner that gets this, and gets serious, because with low interest rates and a federal surplus next year, the time to act is right now."

Wynne also touted her recent China trade mission and its potential benefits to the construction sector.

"We’re telling our story, we’re spreading our model, and we’re opening doors for new markets for our construction companies, our engineers, architects, and financial service providers," she said. "Your expertise is literally in global demand. And we’re committed to helping you to sell it."

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