Ontario Premier Doug Ford pledged to pour more than $25 billion into highway construction over the next 10 years when the progressive Conservative government presented its budget on Thursday.
That figure includes money for Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass, controversial projects that would pave protected greenbelt areas north of Toronto, but doesn’t break down how much those highways are expected to cost.
The government said the $25 billion would also fund work to widen Highway 401 and a number of other highway projects in southern and northern Ontario.
“For too long Ontario people have been stuck in traffic, thousands of hours wasted on crowded trains or behind the wheel in bumper-to-bumper traffic, costing the province’s economy billions,” reads the introduction to a section on highway construction and infrastructure . “That needs to change. Because of this, the Ontario government is building more roads and bridges, transit links and freeways, including Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass.”
The budget includes estimates that these two freeway projects will save commuters about half an hour, although previous government studies contradicted these figures, putting the time saving at a minute or two.
All other parties have pledged to scrap Highway 413, with the official opposition NDP and the Greens also vowing to scrap the Bradford bypass. Liberal leader Steven Del Duca has not committed to canceling this project, which would traverse the ecologically sensitive Holland Marsh to connect Highways 400 and 404, but would pause further work pending a new environmental assessment. Studies currently used to plan the project have not been updated since 1997.
“If this assessment doesn’t meet environmental and community standards, we will shut down the Bradford bypass as well as Highway 413,” said Liberal Press Secretary Andrea Ernesaks.
The Ford government pledged $61.6 billion over 10 years for transit, including upgrading the GO Transit rail lines between Oshawa and Bowmanville and expanding services from Toronto’s Union Station to London and the United States Niagara Region. That money would also fund previously announced expansions to Toronto’s subway and light rail systems.
The 268-page document included additional plans unveiled in a series of campaign-style announcements across the province over the past few months: a critical minerals strategy to extract ore from the Ring of Fire region of northern Ontario; massive funding for automakers to convert facilities to manufacture hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) and facilities to manufacture batteries therefor; investments in charging stations for electric vehicles; $24 million to build a phosphorus recycling facility at Holland Marsh; and a gas tax break that would only take effect after the election.
Some of the promises are a redux of the 2018 Progressive Conservative campaign, when the party captured the majority of seats in a landslide, leaving the former Liberals in Queen’s Park after 15 years in power with no official party status and just seven seats.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford pledged to pour more than $25 billion into highway construction over the next 10 years when the progressive Conservative government presented its budget on Thursday. #OntarioBudget
For example, in 2018 Ford promised to cut gas prices by 10 cents a liter by cutting provincial gas taxes and ending Ontario’s cap-and-trade system. But Ford didn’t lower gasoline taxes, and when it ended cap-and-trade, the state carbon tax went into effect, wiping out any savings for Ontario residents. The government also spent $30 million fighting the federal carbon tax, a battle it lost.
However, the 2022 budget still boasts that between eliminating cap-and-trade and lowering gasoline taxes, the government will allocate “a total of 10 cents per liter to relieve provincial fees and taxes at the pump for Ontario drivers and families.” . ”
The gas tax cut would cost the province more than $600 million.
While the government is betting heavily on economic growth stemming from the mining of critical minerals in the Ring of Fire for use in increased EV manufacturing, its recent budget fails to provide incentives to increase EV adoption among Ontario drivers who are far behind other remaining provinces.
Budget is tight on plans or funds for environment and climate change. Treasury Secretary Peter Bethlenfalvy cited previously announced investments in critical minerals, electric vehicles and funding for Hamilton-based steelmaker ArcelorMittal Dofasco to transition from coal-fired to electric furnaces as a means of creating “clean, green” jobs.
“That’s our green plan,” Bethlenfalvy said. He also noted Ontario’s move toward using small nuclear reactors for power generation and touted the province’s clean power grid with 94 percent zero-emission power generation. This is mainly because the previous liberal government phased out coal-fired power generation.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the Ford government simply wanted to build “big highways” and “big subdivisions”.
“It’s really clear that Doug Ford started a war on the environment when he was first elected and that hasn’t changed,” Horwath said. “Everyone knows that the climate crisis, the climate emergency, is getting worse and we need to get serious.”
Del Duca said he wasn’t surprised by the silence about the environment. “We’ve literally seen four years of Doug Ford pulling us back in this province with environmental response at every turn,” Del Duca said.
Green Party leader Mike Schreiner called the plan “a pro-sprawl, anti-climate budget.”
“The Ford administration will increase climate pollution and pave over the farmland that feeds us and the nature that protects us from climate-related weather events, and they will completely undermine the integrity of the Green Belt by having two 400-series highways rammed through them ‘ said Schreiner.
The budget promises the creation of a new provincial park, but does not detail how much that will cost, nor has the park’s location been determined.
In 2018, Ford championed the idea of cutting red tape and cutting government spending. Earlier this month, Ontario’s financial watchdog forecast that the province could climb out of deficit by fiscal year 2023-24 under current policies, despite economic losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the current budget does not show Ontario climbing out of the red by 2027-28.
“We had a no-build environment,” Bethlenfalvy said when asked if he had failed to contain the deficit. “Doug Ford has been building highways, infrastructure and hospitals from day one.”
The Ford government has reversed an earlier promise it had enshrined in the 2019 law to present budgets by March 31 each year or the prime minister and finance minister would face a fine. The government changed that law this year, avoiding the penalties that Ford and the Treasury Secretary had to pay in 2020.
Given its late delivery, this year’s budget won’t see lawmakers before the June 2 election. Bethlenfalvy would not clearly commit to presenting the same budget released Thursday if the Progressive Conservatives are re-elected, insisting the government would listen to voters during the campaign.
Horwath questioned whether the budget was a “bait and switch” that the Progressive Conservatives would reverse if re-elected. “What is he hiding?”
Ford’s communications director later tweeted that the government would reintroduce the budget if re-elected, “End”.
The provincial election campaign officially begins on May 4th.