By MPP Toby Barrett
If there’s anything to be learned from the ongoing boondoggle of potholes on provincial Highway 6, it’s the crucial importance of infrastructure to our social and economic well-being.
Highway 6, south of Hamilton, is one of Ontario’s earliest thoroughfares going back to the late 1700s. It’s a major conduit for steel, gypsum, petroleum products and of course people –whether they be commuters, tourists or locals.
If it weren’t for the discovery of “archeological findings”, Highway 6, from Hagersville to Caledonia, would have been paved two years ago.
Infrastructure goes far beyond provincial highways and their maintenance ranging from public transit and Toronto subways to rural roads and culverts as well as natural gas lines and broadband cellular.
There’s no question that rural and small town Ontario faces challenges when it comes to paying for and maintaining infrastructure. With this government, it’s like the movie Groundhog Day, we hear the same concerns year-in and year-out, but they don’t get acted on.
Meanwhile, we hear of precious infrastructure dollars being wasted with potential cost overruns beyond 25 per cent, according to Ontario’s Auditor General. Take a look at Highway 403 where government was repaving it every two years rather than every 15 years.
The government has cut the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) by $70 million over the past five years. The resulting pressure to raise property taxes or reduce services is why, as Ontario’s Opposition, we advocate the restoration of the $70 million.
Municipalities are struggling with aging rinks, pools and parks. An additional $124 million is needed. And there should be no strings attached – municipalities shouldn’t have to match funding.
Sometimes municipalities need a bit of extra help when it comes to funding larger infrastructure projects. We need to allow public-private pooling of similar projects so smaller municipalities can benefit from public-private financing to get shovels in the ground.
We also need more clarity and transparency as to how funding decisions are made. Gone should be the days when a project is rejected without any explanation or follow-up.
Too many rural communities are missing out on high-speed broadband or reliable cell service. As Opposition we want these projects eligible under the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund. We advocate an additional $100 million towards funding these projects.
Access to natural gas continues as a key part of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s Producing Prosperity campaign. The OFA states: “natural gas is the single most important investment that will give farms, businesses and rural residents the competitive edge to drive growth.” Government should be doing everything it can to improve access to natural gas – yet the Wynne Liberals haven’t allowed the private sector, which is ready and willing, to fund natural gas expansion to communities.
Let’s allow private companies to fund natural gas expansion in the province. This would provide natural gas services to up to 70 communities and 38,000 customers.
The phone calls and e-mails continue to come in with regard to potholes on 6. As taxpayers, area residents feel they deserve far better maintenance than they have been receiving. The same applies for all infrastructure and I will continue to push for improvements. Further, this government must do a better job communicating its plan to those who pay the freight.
Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk