TORONTO, Ont. – A commitment to invest more than $35 billion in infrastructure over the next three years was promised by Ontario finances minister Charles Sousa.
Sousa delivered his fall economic statement yesterday and outlined the Wynne government’s strategy for creating jobs and growing the provincial economy.
A key plank in the government’s plan is the creation of a new dedicated trust fund, called the Trillium Trust, where revenue gains from asset sales would be placed and used to finance key public infrastructure priorities such as public transit, highways, hospitals and schools. In addition, the province will introduce legislation to require the government to table a 10-year infrastructure plan in the legislature.
David Bradley, president of the Ontario Trucking Association, said the establishment of a dedicated infrastructure trust fund and the requirement to develop an infrastructure plan are good ideas.
“We would have preferred to see the creation of a specific highway trust fund with revenues from the provincial diesel fuel tax and vehicle and driver registration fees dedicated to it, but this is a move in the right direction,” Bradley said.
The costs of congestion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) are highlighted as exacting a major toll on the economy. Figures cited from the CD Howe Institute put the annual economic cost at about $7.5 billion per year.
Investments in public transit – especially the $50 billion, 25-year Metrolinx transit plan for the GTHA – features prominently in the government’s plan, although Ontarians will have to wait until later this year for the recently established 13-member panel to provide its recommendations on how the project will be funded.
“OTA has met with the chair of the panel and has held discussions with Metrolinx,” said Bradley. “The industry is prepared to pay its fair share for the infrastructure it uses but there is still a huge trust factor the politicians must address and the industry must be treated fairly compared to other business sectors when it comes to transit funding.”
The economic statement said, “As important as public transit is, a modern, efficient highway network plays an important role in helping address traffic congestion. Investments in the provincial highway network support the movement of goods to market and commuters between their homes and workplaces.”
According to the statement, the province will be making strategic investments to expand provincial highways, including widening Highway 417 in Ottawa and Highway 11/17 between Thunder Bay and Nipigon, and extending Highway 407 east through Durham Region. The province is also committed to introducing a high-occupancy toll (HOV/HOT) lanes in the GTHA.
The $100-million infrastructure fund announced in the 2013 budget to fund critical infrastructure projects in small, rural and northern municipalities includes $71 million for road, bridge, water and wastewater projects that are identified as priorities in municipal asset management plans and the province is considering ways to make the fund permanent.
The government also takes aim at what it claims is under-investment in innovation and productivity-enhancing technologies such as R&D, new equipment and computer software.
The economic statement says Ontario’s businesses have strengthened their financial positions and could be investing more.
“Again, we’ll need to learn more about what the government is considering to ensure the trucking industry can take full advantage and is not treated unfairly,” said Bradley. “The very thought of a payroll tax is concerning, especially as the truck driver occupation does not qualify for some of the other offsetting training funds available to other industries.”
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