The Ontario government is investing an additional $1 billion over the next five years into infrastructure in rural and northern Ontario, Premier Doug Ford announced on Wednesday morning.
Using the backdrop of the recently renovated bridge in the hamlet of Westwood, 25 kilometres east of Peterborough, Ford announced the funding through the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF), which will focus on building and repairing roads, bridges, water and waste water infrastructure. It equals $200 million annually to 2026 to support 424 communities throughout the province. Municipalities may accumulate funding for up to five years to address larger infrastructure projects.
“Our small, rural and northern communities will be at the forefront of our efforts to build Ontario for the future,” said Ford. “With this investment, we are saying yes to helping these communities build and repair the vital infrastructure they need to keep their communities working for decades to come.”
Ford said in the face of challenges, his government has a plan for growing the economy, calling rural and small-town Ontario the “lifeblood of the province.” He said the communities have been “ignored for too long” by previous governments.
“When Ontario’s economy is firing on all cylinders, it’s an unstoppable machine — it’s the engine that powers this country,” he said. “And for that to happen — to unleash Ontario’s full economic potential — we must look toward our small, rural and northern communities that are the heart and soul of our province who support small business and local manufacturing and allow people to live well and thrive.”
Funding allocations will be based on a formula that recognizes the different needs and economic conditions of communities across the province. Starting in 2022, the formula will include an increased funding minimum of $100,000 for all communities per year, up from $50,000 over previous years.
“Communities are the heartbeat of this province and we know they are facing unique infrastructure needs and challenges, especially as we navigate through the pandemic,” stated Kinga Surma, minister of infrastructure.
“Our government has been with them every step of the way. When we were told more funding supports were needed, we listened and acted in a meaningful way by providing the largest OCIF increase since the start of the program. By doing so, we’re providing stability and predictability to small, rural and northern communities as they repair, upgrade, and modernize their critical infrastructure so that they are safer, healthier and more reliable for all.”
Peter Bethlenfalvy, minister of finance, said nearly doubling the investment in the OCIF is “supporting public safety, job creation and economic growth.”
“Our government is building a strong, stable foundation that workers, entrepreneurs, and families will build on for generations to come,” he said.
Asphodel-Norwood Township Mayor Rodger Bonneau said the OCIF is crucial for rural communities. His township will see annual funding go from $170,000 to $340,000.
“What OCIF means to our township, that’s easy: Our expansion starts from the ground up. As much as we budget for the future, without our partnership with our government, we would be years in the making,” he said. “The increase to the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund envelope proves once again how much this provincial government values the need for infrastructure dollars at the municipal level to support the funding deficit identified in municipal asset management plans.
“Without these funds, the full burden of infrastructure replacement would be placed on municipal budgets, but this partnership will lessen that burden and allow for rural municipalities to sustain an optimal level of service for their residents.”
Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini said upping the annual investment in the OCIF is “great news for our communities.”
“This investment will provide additional certainty for our small and rural communities so that they can address local infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, and water and wastewater infrastructure,” he said. “Our government continues to build the foundation for recovery and prosperity by getting shovels in the ground on critical infrastructure projects in communities across the province.”
— More to come