OTTAWA—Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has proposed a sweeping, multi-billion-dollar national infrastructure partnership between provinces and the federal government, despite growing concerns about the impact of falling oil prices on Ottawa’s bottom line.
“We are not asking the federal government to do it all,” Wynne said in a speech to a Canada 2020 luncheon. “We are asking the federal government to do more.”
The premier said the so-called Canadian Infrastructure Partnership would be a collaboration aimed at investing five per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in infrastructure renewal—almost $100 billion a year.
She said experts estimate governments in Canada currently invest between three and 3.5 per cent of GDP in public infrastructure.
In response, federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver pointed to existing federal infrastructure spending in Ontario.
“Our government has delivered unprecedented investment in Ontario’s infrastructure—from new subway expansion, to renovated roads to improved public transit … Ontario has received over $12 billion in infrastructure funding,” he said in a statement.
The Conservative government has announced a 10-year, $53-billion plan to build critical infrastructure, including roads, bridges and commuter rail systems.
Wynne said those investments were welcome, but suggested they don’t go far enough.
“Even when you account for federal spending on its own infrastructure assets in Ontario and the money it transfers directly to municipalities, the province of Ontario currently still invests three times as much as the federal government in public infrastructure in the province,” she said.
“Despite this, the federal government receives almost an equal share of the revenue generated from these investments. This disparity is a detriment to the Canadian economy as a whole.”
Speaking to reporters after her speech, Wynne denied she expects too much from the federal government in the midst of plummeting oil prices, noting Ottawa and the provinces and territories are all grappling with a changing economy.
“The federal government still has the capacity to engage in this conversation with us. They are still on the verge of surpluses,” she said.
“I see this as the right moment, whether it’s because of low interest rates or because of the economic realities that we’re dealing with—this is the moment that we actually need to foster this growth if we’re going to be successful in the future.”
She called on all federal leaders, including Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, to step up on infrastructure.
“Tell us what you will do to help Canada catch up and ultimately take the lead when it comes to the kind of infrastructure that is essential for our economic competitiveness,” she said in her speech.
The premier pointed to major projects of the past—including the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Trans-Canada Highway—that transformed the country and put thousands to work.
“I do not need to dwell on the state of infrastructure across our country today,” Wynne said. “We all know the reality.”
She called for “large-scale, sustained, co-ordinated and strategically wise” infrastructure investments that would advance economic competitiveness for decades.
The premier’s proposal comes ahead of a premiers’ meeting in Ottawa next week.
Wynne recently invited Prime Minister Stephen Harper to attend the meeting after the two met on Jan. 5 for the first time in more than a year.
The Prime Minister’s Office has said Harper won’t attend, saying he meets regularly with the provincial premiers one-on-one.
NDP industry critic Peggy Nash said Wynne’s proposals underscore the need for Harper to be at the gathering.
“This is exactly why the prime minister needs to attend next week’s meeting with the premiers to talk with provinces on infrastructure, health care, affordable child care and job losses in the manufacturing sector,” she said.
Outside the hotel where the luncheon was held, about a dozen protesters from the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) carried signs and waved a large caricature of the premier.
Thousands of OPSEU employees threaten to strike over an Ontario government proposal to freeze wages for two years and reduce the salaries of new government employees by five per cent.