TORONTO—Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is firing back at federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver, accusing him of playing the “blame game” on infrastructure funding.
Wynne’s comments come after Oliver accused the Ontario government of causing delays in Ottawa’s plan to spend nearly $11 billion on infrastructure by not providing a list of projects the province wants to see funded.
But during a speech to a conference on public-private partnerships, Wynne said Oliver’s “rhetorical enthusiasm does not build bridges or ease congestion.”
She said the federal allocation for Ontario projects under the Building Canada Plan, which is designed to give predictable long-term funding to provinces and territories, is so “inadequate” that her Liberal government has little choice but to apply pressure on Ottawa for better funding.
Oliver said provincial governments must submit their list of priority projects before the money can roll out as part of an 11-year funding plan.
“Unfortunately we are experiencing a delay under the provincial-territorial component of the Building Canada Plan,” he told the conference in Toronto.
“The Government of Ontario has yet to put forward its submission. We hope to receive it soon.”
The federal government doesn’t have an official deadline for submissions, although Alberta, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba have put forth their lists of preferred projects.
Ontario plans to spend $130 billion over 10 years on public transit, roads and bridges, but Wynne complained the federal allocation for the province under the Building Canada Plan will be only $2.7 billion over a decade.
She said with low interest rates and a federal surplus expected next year, “the time to act is now.”
The Ontario government faces a $12.5-billion deficit that Wynne has pledged to eliminate by 2017-18.
“Our government has made infrastructure a real economic priority, so we have no shortage of projects in need of a real federal partner, and have been very clear about this,” she said in her speech. “With every delay, Canada’s persistent infrastructure gap widens and economic growth narrows.”
Ontario Economic Development and Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid said the federal government’s commitment to spend $70 billion across the entire country is “short-changing provinces.”
“The federal minister’s complaints about the slowness of the system, which he set up in the first place, are just a smokescreen for the fact they’re just not investing enough in infrastructure,” he said.
Advocates of public-private partnerships see them as a cost-effective way to deliver infrastructure to the benefit of taxpayers, governments and businesses.
Critics have argued that they aren’t necessarily good for the public sector over the long term even if they bring down government costs in the short term.