On April 28, the Government of Ontario introduced its last budget before the June 2nd election. The Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) Government led by Premier Doug Ford have chosen to make this budget the centrepiece of their re-election campaign. As the legislature immediately adjourned following the introduction of the budget bill, the budget will not be passed before Ontarians go to the polls. The PCs hope it will be enticing enough for voters to re-elect them to a second mandate so that they may pass this budget later this year.
The budget is not short on spending initiatives as the PCs have opted to delay balancing and run a $19.9 billion deficit. If re-elected, the PCs have pledged to spend $158.9 billion on capital infrastructure. This includes $25.1 billion over ten years to support highway expansion and rehabilitation projects across the province including Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. They have also pledged $61.6 billion over ten years for public transit including subways and GO Transit. Of particular importance for Good Roads members is the pledge to support municipal transit and shelters including matching the recent federal commitment of $316.2 million for total provincial and federal funding of $632 million.
While this level of spending on transportation and infrastructure is encouraging, Good Roads would have preferred that more funding be dedicated to shrinking the municipal infrastructure deficit. In 2021, Good Roads calculated a $34.7 billion deficit in municipal roads, bridges, and culverts alone. While the doubling of the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) to nearly $2 billion was a great first step, much remains to be done. This is especially true with adapting local infrastructure to a changing climate. Good Roads had proposed a municipal bridge bundling pilot program to help address the municipal infrastructure deficit as studies and experience in other jurisdictions have demonstrated this could lead to considerable savings and expedited timelines. While the province chose not to pursue such a strategy, Good Roads will continue to advocate for this innovative solution.
Included in the budget was a reaffirmation of the intent to build a 2+1 road pilot on Highway 11 north of North Bay. This is a vital project as such a road design utilizes a Vision Zero/Safe Systems approach. Good Roads is incredibly supportive of this project and applauds the government for continuing to move it forward. Unfortunately, there were no other pledges in the budget to systematically advance road safety in the province. Good Roads will continue to advocate for a provincewide Vision Zero approach to road safety.
A marquee announcement leading up to the budget was the pledge to temporarily cut the gas tax by 5.7 cents per litre and the fuel tax by 5.3 cents per litre for six months beginning July 1, 2022. Good Roads and its members were unsure what this might mean for those municipalities who receive funding through the provincial Gas Tax program which supports local public transit. Good Roads was pleased to see a pledge in the budget that those municipalities receiving this funding will not be impacted by this temporary cut.
Notable omissions from the budget include a plan to address skyrocketing municipal insurance premiums, long-term municipal fiscal sustainability, and climate change adaptation.
Good Roads welcomes the opportunity to continue its positive longstanding partnership with the Government of Ontario. Only by working together can we advance the infrastructure & transportation interests of Ontario municipalities.