Ontario should use federal funds to upgrade water infrastructure and relieve congestion

Ontario should use federal funds to upgrade water infrastructure and relieve congestion

This past Monday, Premier Wynne announced that the province will select which municipal and First Nations projects to fund with the federal government’s Clean Water and Wastewater Fund (CWWF) and Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF) in September. Both funds are part of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Plan. As the Institute showed in Better Foundations: The returns on infrastructure investment in Ontario, investment in these areas can increase productivity. 

Infrastructure investment can go a long way to growing the provincial economy and closing its prosperity gap with peers. In addition to contributing to health and well-being, infrastructure investments create jobs and boost GDP in the short term, and enhance productivity and economic competitiveness in the long term.

In order to maximize returns on infrastructure investments, smart choices must be made. The Institute recommends that funds from the CWWF upgrade existing water infrastructure, while the PTIF help to relieve congestion in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA).

Federal infrastructure funds aim to support ‘sustainable communities’

Under the CWWF, the federal government is providing Ontario with $570 million over the next two years to support water and wastewater projects province-wide. The PTIF allocates $1.5 billion to Ontario to distribute amongst municipalities, or spend on provincially-owned transit systems. This money is earmarked for the upkeep of existing public transit systems and planning for future expansion. Both funds aim to support sustainable, livable communities, while contributing to the province’s economic growth.

Maintenance of water and wastewater systems are needed in Ontario

Infrastructure investment can be used to build new capital stock or maintain existing stock. Maintenance of this capital can be costly—maintenance of Ontario’s current infrastructure stock is estimated to cost 3 percent of GDP per year. Unfortunately, many municipalities have not adequately maintained their water and wastewater infrastructure. Money through CWWF should go towards this maintenance, such as replacing old, broken-down pipes.

Inadequate maintenance poses a public health hazard

There are currently 86 outstanding boil-water advisories (BWA) in Ontario, which can arise from poor water infrastructure maintenance. Government issues BWAs when problems occur within the water system, like equipment failures or poor filtration. For many First Nations communities, BWAs are both common and persistent. Approximately 19,000 people on First Nations reserves are currently facing boil-water advisories, a size comparable to the population of Cobourg. These advisories can be persistent—the Neskantaga and North Spirit Lake First Nations have been under advisories since 1995 and 2001, respectively.

These boil water advisories are problematic, because non-potable water puts the health of Ontarians in jeopardy. As the number and duration of advisories increases, adherence to them falls, exposing individuals to contaminants and bacteria. This in turn puts a strain on the province’s health resources, and increases days off from work due to illness. Boil water advisories also impact businesses, which may have to shut down due to lack of access to potable water. Investment to this infrastructure should be made to prevent system breaks and preserve Ontarians’ health.

Transit funds should relieve congestion

Under the PTIF, Ontario is allocated the most funding of all provinces. This makes sense—money was allocated based on ridership, and Ontario holds 44 percent of Canada’s total ridership. Accordingly, Ontario was given 44 percent of the PTIF. 

The province should follow the federal government’s lead, and allocate PTIF funds to municipalities based on ridership, too. Ridership on the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) accounts for almost 60 percent of provincial ridership. GO transit, which also serves the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), represents an additional seven percent of ridership, bringing total ridership share of this region to 67 percent. As such, this region should receive approximately $1 billion of the $1.5 billion in transit funding.

Investments in public transit infrastructure can yield significant returns to the Ontario economy. Estimates suggest that congestion within the GTHA costs the region up to $7.5 billion per year. Upgrades to the current public transit system will encourage its use, removing cars from the road to reduce congestion. In turn, workers will experience shorter commutes, making it easier to get to work on time.

The provincial government has allocated another $16 billion towards transit projects in the GTHA, through their Moving Ontario Forward strategy. Although $1 billion appears to be a small amount in comparison, this money can be put to good use. An average of 80 TTC buses break down each day, impacting 5,600 customers. If this money is invested in maintaining and replacing buses prone to break down, commutes for those within Toronto can be drastically improved, partly for those who commute outside of areas with higher-order transit such as subways.

Now is the time to invest

The Institute looks forward to hearing how the province will distribute CWWF and PTIF funds. However, these two programs are just part of the federal government’s $120 billion infrastructure plan for Canada. Ontario’s infrastructure is in current need of an upgrade. Investing in it today will lead to a healthier, more economically prosperous Ontario tomorrow.

Photo Credit: timoph, Getty Images

Category: Infrastructure, Public Transit, Productivity