KENORA – POLITICS – One of the most basic but most important jobs that governments do is to develop and maintain infrastructure. Whether it’s roads and other transportation links, utility grids, or water and sewer services, our communities can’t survive and our economy can’t grow without adequate infrastructure.
In Northern Ontario, we know how much of a challenge it is to provide infrastructure. We have a pretty small population, scattered over a huge area, meaning that we have to look to the provincial and federal governments to take a lead in making sure we have the same standard of infrastructure that other regions take for granted.
I know very well that it’s not an easy job, and that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in our region. We all know about the state of highways in Northern Ontario, and how much work there is to be done. More than this, it’s simply unacceptable that we have dozens of communities that, in this day and age, don’t have road access, secure energy, or water and sewage treatment. How are these communities supposed to thrive when governments continue to ignore their needs?
Take Neskantaga First Nation. The community has been under boil water advisory for over twenty years due to poor water quality. That’s longer than any First Nation in Canada. The First Nation has been encouraged by the federal government to do all the studies, get all the information, and be ready for change. They have done so. And yet, they continue to be stonewalled and moved down, not up on the priority list. In fact, as of this month they were moved from 4th to 19th on Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada’s list – what’s that all about?
The Harper government has liked to play up its commitment to infrastructure. Each year, it claims to be investing historic amounts.
But what ever happened to the Harper government’s 100 million dollar announcement to twin the Trans-Canada highway between Kenora and the Manitoba border? It’s already been over 6 years, and still no movement. No construction.
But last week, we found out that the truth is a bit more complicated.
We found out that each and every year, $1.5 billion that has been earmarked for infrastructure by Parliament hasn’t been spent. And the government won’t tell us where the money has gone.
That’s 1.5 billion dollars, that’s supposed to be spent on infrastructure, every year, that hasn’t been.
Just imagine what we could do in Northern Ontario with even a portion of that money.
And of course, budget documents show that planned spending on infrastructure is going to go down by almost 90% over the next couple of years. Assuming the Conservatives even spend the money they say they’re going to spend.
And while this has been going on, where has our Member of Parliament been? I haven’t heard Greg Rickford mention anything about the missing infrastructure money, or the cuts to come.
Which tells me one of two things.
Either Greg Rickford doesn’t know what’s going on, doesn’t know about this money that isn’t being invested the way it’s supposed to. If that’s the case, he’s simply not up to the job of being a Member of Parliament.
Or Greg Rickford knows what’s going on, but he keeps quiet because he cares more about his status in Ottawa than he does about looking out for his constituents. Why else would he leave this kind of money on the table, when he knows what the region’s needs are?
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that addressing Canada’s overall infrastructure needs would cost a staggering $123 billion. That’s the price of neglect – every year that we put off building needed infrastructure, or that we delay repairing and upgrading existing infrastructure, the price continues to go up.
In a recent speech to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Justin Trudeau laid out the Liberal Party’s vision for addressing this. He set out a number of broad priorities, most notably transportation infrastructure. But even more importantly, he reinforced the need for a new, dedicated source of revenue to help municipalities deal with infrastructure needs. It was a Liberal government that shared gasoline tax revenues with municipalities, providing a much needed source of revenue. Working with municipalities, we’ll build on that record.
Obviously, we can’t make up all of the lost ground immediately. But we can and we must do more to ensure that this region’s needs are taken into account and that we get the investment we need in order to prosper. A first step will be actually investing the infrastructure funds that are set aside – and not diverting Fednor dollars to projects that should be part of an infrastructure program. Fednor is supposed to be for business investment and development, not for papering over the cracks that Conservative mismanagement leaves behind.
With infrastructure, like with a lot of areas, this really has been a lost decade for Northern Ontario. The upcoming election gives us a clear choice. You can continue with a Member of Parliament who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care how his government is ignoring this region. Or you can vote for change.
It’s time for a new federal government, and for real representation for Kenora and Northern Ontario. Making announcements is one thing, getting the job done is another.
Liberal Candidate, Kenora Riding
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