If Ontario is going to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government needs to step up and make serious investments in critical infrastructure and local governments, said Andrea Horwath, the leader of the Official Opposition in Ontario, in her address during the Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA) virtual conference.
“You’ve done your part against considerable odds and what you deserve as essential partners in local government and as Ontarians is a provincial government that will step up to the plate and do its part,” Horwath told the audience.
Municipalities have been dealing with downloading and funding cuts from provincial governments for decades, added Horwath.
“None of this made it easier for municipalities to be financially resilient or to build the roads, bridges, transit and critical infrastructure Ontarians need especially in smaller rural and northern communities. It certainly didn’t make it easier for municipalities to maintain essential services when COVID-19 hit,” Horwath explained.
“When the pandemic hit and budgetary pressures got even more unmanageable with municipalities facing an immense $4.1 billion COVID-related shortfall on their books.”
The $3 billion in disbursements under the federal/provincial Safe Restart Agreement in 2020 should have been a good first step, Horwath noted.
“But Mr. (Doug) Ford withheld the rest of the available funds leaving municipalities to face a $2.4 billion COVID-related shortfall for 2021,” said Horwath. “It’s unsustainable. It’s going to create massive instability forcing municipal governments to consider cutting local services at a time when families need to be able to count on services from public health units to child care more than ever.”
Municipalities will do what they have to do to fill in the void left by the province, which could mean diverting funding from infrastructure to other programs, thereby increasing the infrastructure deficit.
“We can’t keep our infrastructure safe without urgent financial support for municipalities,” said Horwath. “If we’re going to help folks make it to the other side of this pandemic then now is the time for the province to invest in local governments, in local services and in job creating infrastructure.”
Minister of Infrastructure Laurie Scott, who also spoke at the conference, said the government is aware there is an infrastructure deficit and it’s been around since before the pandemic.
“That’s why last summer in partnership with the federal government we announced up to $4 billion in urgently needed one-time assistance to Ontario’s 444 municipalities under the Safe Restart Agreement,” said Scott.
“In addition, Ontario’s planned capital investments over the next 10 years amount to a historic $143 billion. We know that’s not enough, but the Ontario government cannot take on the entire financial burden on its own. That’s why we are calling on the federal government to step up with an additional $10 billion per year over the next 10 years for investments in shovel ready projects.”
She said the province will keep building despite the pandemic.
“A year ago, in front of everyone at the Royal York Hotel, I asked ‘are your shovels ready?’ Everyone said yes and then COVID-19 hit,” said Scott. “While COVID-19 has impacted how we live our daily lives it didn’t stop Ontario from building. We continued to build projects like the GO expansion, LRT construction, new hospitals and other critical public infrastructure projects.”
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