Province commits to funding controversial GTA highway projects in fall economic statement

November 4, 2021
Province commits to funding controversial GTA highway projects in fall economic statement

Ontario will go ahead with construction of both the Bradford Bypass and Highway 413, according to the province’s fall economic statement.

The government’s new mini-budget, delivered Thursday, also includes a much lower deficit projection for the fiscal year of 2021-22 than what was forecasted in the budget last March. Although the province has dubbed the outlook “build Ontario,” funding being allocated for building hospitals, schools and transit over the next three years is no different than what was tabled in the budget last March.

In recent news conferences previewing the economic statement, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy had cast “building Ontario” as a way of revving up the economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic and providing needed infrastructure. 

“The qualities that saw our province through the worst days of the pandemic — the spirit of the people of Ontario — will see us to a brighter, more prosperous future,” Bethlenfalvy said in a statement.

“This is our plan for building a better and brighter future for the people of Ontario,” he later said in the legislature.

There are no tax cuts in the document, though the province is introducing a “staycation” tax credit and enhancing or extending several existing tax credits, including the Ontario Seniors’ Home Safety tax credit.

A $15 minimum wage, announced Tuesday by Premier Doug Ford, is also in the legislation.

The province has been keen to build two new highways in the Greater Toronto Area, with Highway 413 cutting an arc from Highway 400 at the northern edge of Vaughan to the interchange of Highways 401 and 407, near where Milton, Mississauga and Brampton converge, and the Bradford bypass connecting Highway 400 to the northern end of Highway 404.

The province says it is spending an additional $1.6 billion over the next six years to support large bridge rehabilitation projects and advance key highway expansion projects including the 413 and the Bradford bypass.

“The evidence is clear … it’s time to get the 413 built,” Bethlenfalvy said, adding that the province’s plans for expansion do not include tolls.

There is not, however, any specific cost breakdown of those projects included in the statement. Earlier estimates from the previous Liberal government pegged costs for Highway 413 alone at $6 billion.

At a briefing Thursday morning, a senior government official said it would not be appropriate to discuss specific costs as there will be a competitive tendering process for the projects, but added that it will be paid for out of the province’s capital plan.

Opposition critics have questioned the value of those projects, including whether the routes were planned to benefit allies of Ford, how much time they will save commuters and the impacts to the environment.

The province is now also projecting a dramatically lower deficit projection for this fiscal year than was projected in the budget.

The 2021 budget deficit outlook pegged the deficit at 33.1 million, though Thursday’s outlook lists it at $21.5 million.

A government official said at the province’s briefing that this change is a reflection of Ontario’s economy recovering from the effects of the pandemic, with improvement being driven in part by higher than expected tax revenues.

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