The Ontario Liberal Party met this weekend in Hamilton, Ontario to discuss policy for the next provincial election. At lunch on Saturday, Premier Kathleen Wynne spoke to the attendees about the government’s three pillar plan for economic growth: investing in people, investing in infrastructure and ensuring a proper business environment is in place.
Wynne’s comments follow a week where the Progressive Conservatives stole the spotlight on the economy by promising to clear several pieces of government legislation. By advancing the legislation on items the parties agreed on, the Conservatives were trying to illustrate that the Liberal’s economic cupboard was bare.
In the press conference following her speech on Saturday, Wynne reiterated that “revenue generation” would be required to deal with the infrastructure deficit. You can be sure that the term “revenue generation” will be used frequently in the coming months. But let’s be clear, “revenue generation” can only be defined as a tax, toll or another form of user fee.
We should also not expect that the funds generated from any type of tax or user fee will be time limited. An example is the Ontario Health Premium that was introduced in 2004 by the Liberal government and has taken $3 billion out of the pockets of Ontarians. Wynne stated that she understands the politics of selling “revenue generation” but frames the issue differently by stating that the infrastructure investments are needed to improve the quality of life for the next generation.
In an unusual admission to the media, Wynne stated that the infrastructure deficit was a result of previous governments not making the necessary investments. However during her remarks to party members, Wynne reminded the audience that the Liberals have been the government of Ontario for the past ten years and that “the Ontario Liberal Party turned this province around.” She listed schools, hospitals, energy grid, roads and transit as examples of improvement. As a former Minister of Transportation and herself a 10 year member of government, we are hoping that the Premier’s admission was acceptance that the Liberals share most of the blame on the infrastructure deficit as it wouldn’t be right to throw this all back at Mike Harris or Bob Rae.
On the weekend the Liberals launched a new platform policy development tool called “Common Ground.” This tool will allow all Ontarians to participate in the development of the next Liberal campaign platform. Transit and infrastructure development should be front and centre.
There is no disagreement that our infrastructure is ageing and is in need of repair, replacement and enhancements. The jury is out on whether the government can deliver what is needed throughout the province without the assistance of the private sector. It is a discussion that we need to have and the Premier should be commended for putting the issue of “revenue generation” on the table for debate.