Continued, stable Ontario infrastructure funding good news, say political reps

TIMMINS—Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne promising members of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) that the province will continue its infrastructure funding program to municipalities is good news, say Manitoulin and off-Island politicians.

“It was a fantastic conference,” stated Pat MacDonald, a Central Manitoulin municipal councillor to the news provided by Ms. Wynne at the annual FONOM conference last week in Timmins. “The stable annual infrastructure funding announced by the premier and a new funding formula involving both the province and federal government  is what FONOM has been asking for, for a long while.”

Al Spacek, president of FONOM, told the Recorder, “there were no real new announcements made as to additional new funding at the conference, but we did receive information from the federal representatives that their infrastructure funding money to municipalities will be at a 50 percent ratio and the province at 30 percent. It is good news that the feds will be providing a higher share of the costs.”

“And the federal reps announced that they will letting the province be the funders for this, meaning one stop shopping for municipalities for funding instead of having to apply to both the province and federal governments they will only have to apply to the province which is good news,” said Mr. Spacek.

Premier Wynne told municipal leaders at FONOM last week that the government plans to continue spending money on infrastructure for things like roads, waterlines and sewers.  She told FONOM delegates that when her government came into power, they were taking over from a previous Liberal administration that she described as being in a fragile post-recession recovery, and this led to infrastructure all across the province falling behind.

Premier Wynne said the province put into action the largest infrastructure investment in Ontario history. She explained the province is in year three of that plan and in its 2016 budget it increased the investment to more than $160 billion over 12 years.

When her government looked at infrastructure funding for Northern Ontario, Premier Wynne said the word that came back was that Connecting Link funding was the critical need and that the government responded with money for several Northern Ontario road projects.

The premier said for the North faster and more reliable Internet access is needed. So the government has been working with federal and municipal leaders and are working to build broadband networks across rural and Northern Ontario.

And along with the information highway, the North needs better and safer highways, so the province is investing over $500 million in the Northern Highways Program this year, said the premier. And over the  next few years the province is tripling the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF).

Derek Stephens, a Central Manitoulin councillor, said, “one thing I certainly couldn’t understand is that we were told at the conference that the province feels that Northern Ontario has the lowest hydro rates around. I told one of the provincial ministers to thank the premier because in my four terms on council for the first few years all I heard about was taxes being too high; now residents are a lot more concerned about their hydro bills. We all know rates in the North are higher than in the rest of the province.”

“There were a number of times during the conference the discussion was of the high hydro costs in the North,” said Mr. Spacek. “And over time this has shifted from businesses raising concerns with high costs to where it is now that residential owners in the North saying that they can’t keep up with the costs of hydro. The province heard loud and clear our concerns on this issue.”