Questions loom over Ontario’s $3.6bn infrastructure fund for roads

Citizens are questioning Premier Doug Ford’s infrastructure spending and decision making, leaving questions about the money’s accountability Shawn Micallef is an ABC radio satirist, broadcaster and writer who most recently hosted the CBC radio…

Questions loom over Ontario's $3.6bn infrastructure fund for roads

Citizens are questioning Premier Doug Ford’s infrastructure spending and decision making, leaving questions about the money’s accountability

Shawn Micallef is an ABC radio satirist, broadcaster and writer who most recently hosted the CBC radio show, The Pollster’s Journal

Citizens are questioning the Premier Doug Ford’s infrastructure spending and decision making, leaving questions about the money’s accountability and where the money will be spent.

The question is not whether someone should spend $3.6bn on roads, but where is this money going to? A March 2018 budget document stated: “The partnership to provide long-term capital for transportation projects was announced on 11 February.” I believe, based on these facts, the premier should look further down the road.

Ford is out of touch with voters’ priorities. Not only is Ford ignoring the needs of the long-term infrastructure plan, but he doesn’t seem to know where the money will actually go.

A month before this year’s budget Ford stated, “Our priorities are on the front line: providing better medical services and have nothing to do with government spending.” And in an interview the same month, he said, “We’re not looking at anything that’s out of the province, anything that’s not a $2bn construction project.”

It’s clear that he has no conception of where the money is spent and how it benefits Ontarians. He has no knowledge of how we can fill potholes or fix our highways when they need fixing. His spending priorities appear to be focused on the short term, rather than the long term.

Let’s be clear. More money invested into roads and highways doesn’t guarantee quick results. There has never been a government infrastructure spending program in the province that didn’t require a huge investment upfront in order to revitalize and return to good shape the ground beneath the roads.

It does take a lot of time and patience to get roads in the shape we want them to be for communities – both towns and the hundreds of thousands of drivers who choose to take their cars or use public transit to get around. Roads and highways have come back after investing in them over the past three decades, at a significantly lower cost per mile than new highways with state-of-the-art safety technology.

I’m not suggesting that we spend money in ways that increase long-term safety and efficiency. That’s not the point. I want to see more thinking on where the money should be spent – this includes more consultation with Ontarians at every stage of this decision-making process, more accountability, and transparent decision-making.

As a tax and spend Conservative, Ford is a match made in heaven for Ontario’s Liberals. The document on long-term infrastructure in this year’s budget is actually an eight-year plan. The plan has good short-term goals, but overlooks the need for investing in long-term infrastructure – which is frankly the only way we will ensure infrastructure is built with technology and engineering know-how that will keep up with our needs in the future.

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Ford is talking about shovels in the ground in 2021, so he will probably be talking about this issue again in 2022. How does he think the cash should be invested? If he has a plan, he should be working on it. He should start bringing people together to talk about it with Ontarians, including design thinking teams and start early consultations so that he can “get this right”. He should understand that getting the big picture needs to happen first.

Ford has grandiose plans but lacks the expertise and understanding to build a plan that will guarantee the long-term benefits of funding.

• Shawn Micallef is a comedian and broadcaster

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