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Ford government neglecting northern highways says NDP

'Why does this Premier think it is okay to shortchange the north time after time?'
20200807 highway 94 construction 1 turl
File photo. Jeff Turl/BayToday.

A pair of northern Ontario MPPs pressed Premier Doug Ford this week why he diverted millions of dollars from highway infrastructure in the north to fund multi-billion-dollar roads in the south, like the Bradford Bypass and Highway 413.

The province's auditor general has found that $158 million earmarked for northern highway projects was re-directed to work in southern Ontario.

Read the report here.

NDP MPPs Michael Mantha (Algoma–Manitoulin) and Lise Vaugeois (Thunder Bay–Superior North) charge that the Ford government’s "continual neglect in the north is having negative effects on northerners."

“Highway 17 is critical to life in Algoma-Manitoulin,” said Mantha on Tuesday in Question Period. “It connects residents to essential services, brings goods to market, drives tourism and connects Ontario to Western Canada. Why does this Premier think it is okay to shortchange the north time after time? It just adds insult to injury that Mr. Ford is shelving important northern infrastructure projects to build a couple of multi-billion-dollar roads for his buddies.”

See: $158M diverted from northern highways projects to southern Ontario, AG finds

“Shortchanging the north has serious consequences,” said Vaugeois. “Highways 11 and 17 merge together just outside Nipigon and both highways were shut down for 36 hours last week, cutting off all traffic, including thousands of trucks, from being able to cross Canada.”

Both Mantha and Vaugeois called on Ford to stop neglecting the north and restore the funds he took away from northern highways.

BayToday reached out to Nipissing MPP asking for clarification on the money shift. In his reply, he did not directly address the loss of $158m nor if it would be replaced.

“Our government is investing more than $600 million to expand and repair northern highways and bridges, which will support more than 4,240 jobs in Northern Ontario," Fedeli said in an emailed reply. "All projects the Auditor General references in her report are at various stages of work but are moving forward.

"On June 2nd, 2022, the people of Ontario were clear. They re-elected a government with a mandate to build infrastructure, which is exactly what our government is doing.”

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk conducted a value-for-money audit of highway planning and management and found that the Ford government re-prioritized four highway projects, which had been deemed to have a lower priority ranking, over six projects that had already been approved for funding.

Two of the projects that were put on hold were in northwestern Ontario, east of Thunder Bay, involving two stretches of Highway 11/17 widening between the city and Nipigon.

One of the four projects that were advanced was work to widen Highway 11/17 between the Kenora and Manitoba border, which government caucus members — including Kenora-Rainy River Conservative MPP Greg Rickford — signalled as a priority. The auditor general's report said that was viewed as a "medium-priority" project by the ministry.

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said in a statement. 

During Question Period in Queens Park earlier this week, MPP Kevin Holland (PC, Thunder Bay-Atikokan) discussed highway safety.

“In the last year we have seen an alarming increase of fatal collisions on our roads, particularly in the north," he said. Injuries and fatalities are more likely to occur on a northern highway as compared to a highway in southern Ontario.”

Holland asked Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney about the government's plans to enhance highway safety in the north.

In her response, Mulroney said the government has requested proposals for a two-plus-one highway project on Highway 11 in the North Bay area.

Meanwhile, NDP MPP Guy Bourgouin (Mushkegowuk—James Bay) saw his bill to improve maintenance standards on highways 11 and 17 rejected by the government Thursday.
"For four years Bourgouin has been fighting for his bill to improve winter highway maintenance on highways 11 and 17 in order to reduce the number of winter closures and collisions on northern Ontario roads," says an NDP release. "In 2019, the government voted against the bill, and in 2021, the government passed an initial stage of the bill but then let the legislation die on the order paper."
“It is extremely concerning that northern MPPs Greg Rickford, Victor Fedeli, Kevin Holland and George Pirie voted against this bill and refused to fight for safer highways in our communities,” said Bourgouin. “These people call themselves leaders, but they cannot be found when it is time to make a change.
“Families across northern Ontario are frequently forced to miss work due to highway closures caused by inadequate winter maintenance standards. In the worst cases, drivers are seriously injured or killed.
“While the Liberals privatized and de-regulated winter highway maintenance, Doug Ford’s Conservatives are taking us from bad to worse by voting down a bill that could have improved the quality of our roads, and saved lives. Mr. Ford thinks northern drivers should settle for a 12-hour standard when the standard in southern Ontario is eight hours. That’s not good enough.”
Bourgouin’s bill was to reclassify Highways 11 and 17 into the first class and would have increased the interval of snow removal in northern Ontario and given them the same priority status as the southern Ontario 400 series highways.
“I will continue fighting for what is right for drivers in northern Ontario,” said Bourgouin. “We deserve the exact same highway maintenance standards as drivers in southern Ontario, and I won’t give up until we make that a reality.”

With files from Clint Fleury

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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