Premier Kathleen Wynne wants federal and provincial governments to invest $100 billion a year to close Canada’s infrastructure gap.
With a federal election later this year, Wynne was in Ottawa on Tuesday to urge voters to opt for the party that will invest the money needed to build up the country.
“This is not about politics or who gets credit,” the premier told a Canada 2020 luncheon audience.
“Speaking for myself, I would be happy to put up as many ‘Economic Action Plan’ signs as it takes to help advance the economic strength of this province,” she said, referring to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s familiar blue billboards that spring up wherever Ottawa is spending money on a new project.
“As we enter an election year, I issue a challenge to all the federal parties and their leaders.”
Wynne wants Harper, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to “tell Canadians how you will help to build a stronger economic union across our country.”
“Tell us what you will do to help Canada catch up and ultimately take the lead when it comes to the kind of infrastructure that is essential for our economic competitiveness,” she said.
“Tell us if you are willing to enter into a new and ongoing commitment with the provinces that will empower us to compete more aggressively and more successfully than ever . . . and to bring home the jobs and prosperity that go with it.”
While Wynne has often campaigned with Trudeau, a fellow Grit, she emphasized she is burying the hatchet with the Conservative Harper after more than a year of not meeting in person.
“Two weeks ago, I had a positive and constructive meeting with the prime minister. We discussed a range of pressing issues, including the progress that is being made under existing infrastructure agreements,” she said.
“But in many ways the key point is that these existing programs, while effective in their own limited way, are not sufficient to meet the scope of the investments that are required to truly move us forward. We need to make a transformative change.”
That change is a pledge by all levels of government in Canada to invest 5 per cent of the country’s $2 trillion gross domestic product (GDP) in infrastructure renewal each year.
“The experts tell us that governments in Canada are currently investing in public infrastructure an amount equal to between 3 and 3.5 per cent of GDP,” Wynne noted.
“All provincial governments are stretching just to make the current levels of investment, so are our municipal partners, but the federal government, which gets a great return on our infrastructure investments, can do more,” the premier said.
“I believe it should take the form of a Canadian infrastructure partnership — a collaboration that has an explicit objective of investing 5 per cent of our GDP in infrastructure renewal,” she said.
“We are not asking the federal government to do it all. We are asking the federal government to do more.”
Indeed, Ontario has earmarked $130 billion over the next decade on new transit, highways, roads, bridges, waterworks, and other construction.
Pointing out that Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders will be gathering in Ottawa on Jan. 30 to further discuss the matter, Wynne suggested creating “a new and dedicated infrastructure transfer — like the transfers for health, education and social services.”
That would be instead of the ad hoc programs federal governments routinely announce to bankroll new public building projects.