Kathleen Wynne proposes infrastructure partnership between Ottawa, provinces

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne proposed a national infrastructure partnership between the provinces and the federal government during a speech in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Ontario premier delivers keynote address at Canada 2020 luncheon

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne delivered a keynote speech at a Canada 2020 luncheon in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne proposed a national infrastructure partnership between the provinces and the federal government during a speech in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Delivering a keynote address at a Canada 2020 luncheon, Wynne said the so-called Canadian Infrastructure Partnership would amount to a collaboration aimed at investing five per cent of Canada's GDP in infrastructure renewal.

She said experts estimate that governments in Canada currently invest between three and 3.5 per cent of GDP in public infrastructure.

Wynne said the provinces and the municipalities are all stretched to meet that target. The federal government, which Wynne said gets a great return on infrastructure investment, should do more. 

“The federal government has the means to help. It only needs the will," she said. "We are need to carry our weight."

She's calling for "large-scale, sustained, coordinated and strategically-wise" infrastructure investments that would advance economic competitiveness for decades.

"We know the benefits that infrastructure generates in terms of economic activity," she says. "But public infrastructure also reduces the cost of production in the private sector and increases productivity."

She pointed to past major infrastructure projects — including the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Trans-Canada Highway — that transformed the country and put thousands to work.

Current programs not sufficient

She added that infrastructure is in dire need of help.

"I do not need to dwell on the state of infrastructure across our country today," Wynne said in the speech. "We all know the reality."

Wynne said that the mechanism of the proposed partnership could take different forms, such as a dedicated infrastructure transfer, a block transfer, or a new financing model that approaches the market for capital loans while running operational surpluses. 

Finance Minister Joe Oliver responded to Wynne’s proposal by saying that the federal government has delivered “unprecedented investment” in Ontario’s infrastructure, from subway expansion to road renovation.

“In 2013 we created the longest and largest infrastructure fund in Canadian history, dedicating over $70 billion over 10 years for public projects,” he said, adding that Ontario has received over $12 billion in infrastructure funding.

Oliver said Prime Minister Stephen Harper also announced in 2014 over $5 billion in new funding for infrastructure improvement projects, such as research facilities and national parks.  

Wynne said she discussed existing infrastructure programs with Harper during their meeting two weeks ago. She said while those programs “are effective in their own limited ways,” they do not meet the scope the needs. 

Wynne's infrastructure proposal comes in advance of a premiers' meeting in Ottawa next week.

She invited Harper to attend the meeting after the two met on Jan. 5 for the first time in more than a year, but the Prime Minister's Office has said Harper won't attend, saying he meets regularly with the provincial premiers one-on-one.

With files from The Canadian Press