Remarks for Jeff Yurek, Minister of Transportation Ontario Good Roads Association Annual General Conference
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Thank you Mayor Shoppman (Paul Schoppman, Mayor of the Municipality of St. Charles) for that great introduction.
Good afternoon everyone.
It's a pleasure for me to be here and to speak with you today.
I'd like to thank the Ontario Good Roads Association, and everyone in this room, for your contribution to Ontario's transportation infrastructure. It is absolutely critical to the prosperity and vitality of our province.
And of course, I want to congratulate you on ORGA's 125th anniversary.
Many of you have come a long distance to share your experiences, your knowledge and your innovative approaches that work.
We are here because we all share a common goal - a commitment to improving the quality of life in Ontario's many diverse communities.
There are numerous, complex challenges in municipalities today.
But when I look around this room and see all the expertise, the knowledge and the experience that you bring, I am confident we can find the solution to any problem.
Our province depends on a reliable transportation system that promotes safety, encourages trade and maintains a high quality of life for all Ontarians.
To accomplish this, we will continue to build on our strengths, or success and our partnerships.
I'd like to start by telling you a little about what our government is doing to improve the fiscal situation in Ontario and lessen the burden on businesses—including the transportation sector— so they can grow and thrive.
In December we introduced a red tape reduction bill that will help us cut regulations by 25 per cent over two years.
I know many people in this room have followed our Making Ontario Open for Business Act, which has now passed. This will make it easier for employers to hire workers, and it will ensure that workers have easier access to jobs and career growth.
Our government is seizing opportunities and harnessing new technologies to make government and business more efficient.
Just last week we released 'Driving Prosperity', a plan that reflects not only our government's deep commitment to the auto sector, but a plan that will harness Ontario's unique convergence of auto and tech expertise.
It will fully exploit our advantage in designing and building the next generation of vehicles.
And with recent changes we've made to the Autonomous Vehicle pilot, we're holding the door wide open for new testing, research and development opportunities.
Like allowing participants to test new technologies such as cooperative and connected large truck platoons and driverless vehicles on public roads.
We know that the benefits of being part of automated vehicle innovation is a win for all of us.
The potential for increased road safety, managed traffic congestion and easier movement of goods and services is clear.
As are the benefits of decreased emissions and increased potential in research and development and academic sectors.
Along with the untapped potential for employment.
These are just some of the many things we are doing to show that Ontario is open for business.
Improving our highways is an integral part of our plan.
And we are going to keep on building and repairing highways.
As many of you know — under the previous government, Ontario's deficit was allowed to grow up to $15 billion dollars a year.
As municipal leaders, you understand that if the deficit were to keep growing, it would put many things at risk, like hospitals, schools, and even our transportation network.
Today, Ontario has a government that will get its finances in order.
We all know there are some difficult decisions ahead.
We are currently reviewing all proposed projects and actions taken place to date, to make sure we are best positioned to provide quality and efficient transportation options to all Ontarians.
In fact, we are finding efficiencies and streamlining services, to make sure that government programs and spending make the most sense, for the most people.
These are necessary steps to help achieve fiscal balance and restore public confidence in Ontario's finances.
The good news is that we have already started making progress to restore fiscal discipline to Ontario.
A couple of weeks ago, Minister Fedeli and President of the Treasury Board Peter Bethenfalvy confirmed a $1 billion-dollar reduction in the province's deficit, largely driven by increased economic activity from consumers and businesses.
Ontario's deficit is now projected to come down to $13.5 billion in 2018-2019.
We are making real improvements to the province's financial position and demonstrating that our plan to fix government is working.
We are respecting the taxpayer and making government more effective for everyone.
Of course, one reason why we are working so hard to find efficiencies is so that we can fund the projects that matter most. And that certainly includes our transportation priorities.
We want to keep people and goods moving by improving our transportation network.
I know that roads and highways are critically important to you - in communities large and small, right across Ontario.
Highways are virtual lifelines for accessing services and doing business. They play a significant role in the social and economic well-being of residents and contribute to a higher quality of life.
Each road and highway in this province serves the people of Ontario.
And, the industries that rely on highways to deliver their goods.
Whether through roads or transit, we will partner with municipalities to build the kind of transportation infrastructure that best serves the needs of each community.
Our government stands by its campaign commitments.
Work continues on the potential six-laning of highway 401, to highway 416 on the road to Ottawa.
And, speaking of the 401, I hope to have an announcement soon about our plans to increase safety on the highway.
We're moving forward towards four lanes on Highway 17, west of Arnprior and Highway 3, between Leamington and Windsor.
We are delivering on what we promised.
As I've said before, the Ministry of Transportation is also moving forward on major projects like the Highways 400 and 427 expansions.
The twinning of Highway 69 between Sudbury and Parry Sound and Highway 17, between Kenora and the Manitoba border.
Looking ahead, our government will present its first budget.
It will be faithful to the principles that have guided us as a government: restoring trust and accountability in Ontario's finances, making Ontario open for business, and respecting consumers and families by making life more affordable.
The Minister of Finance is still consulting on the budget.
But I can assure you that he, as a former Mayor, knows the importance of roads and highways in communities.
So, our government will make smart investments in public transportation, in highways, roads and bridges with an eye to improving Ontario's road network and keeping it in great condition.
Our Government, working for the people of Ontario will continue working to expand transit, as part of an integrated transportation system.
We believe that planning for highways, roads and transit must be integrated, because, after all, effective public transit is absolutely critical for reducing gridlock.
As we build public transit, we will use public dollars smarter and work with business to reduce the cost to taxpayers. Partnering with the private sector to seize on opportunities like Transit Oriented Development.
For example, cities around the world are using market-driven mechanisms like selling the air rights over transit stations, to reduce the cost of building new transit.
Allowing developers to build above transit stations will reduce the cost of these projects to taxpayers and will create mixed-use communities at our stations.
Last fall, we announced the first new station development of this kind in Ontario, at the Mimico GO Station. And it won't be the last.
I believe there is a strong appetite for more partnerships like this, and I'm very excited to see how far we can take this market driven approach.
In addition to building transit, we are expanding service.
Already, we've added the first commuter GO train service to Niagara Region, more trains on the Kitchener line and 15-minute service thorugh most of the day on the Lakeshore line.
As well, our government has expressed support for a Downtown Relief Line, the Scarborough Subway Extension, and the Yonge Subway Extension ...
Because we recognize the importance of the subway system, both to residents of Toronto and the economic success of the entire region.
We also recognize that people have been waiting far too long to see these projects happen.
The necessary investments to maintain and expand the subway system can best be delivered directly by the province.
That's why we have recently agreed with the City of Toronto on a joint Terms of Reference to guide the discussion about how our two levels of government can work in partnership.
Together, we are working to ensure that more subway lines will get built more quickly.
Our government's position remains unchanged - an upload of subway infrastructure to the province will get transit built faster and fulfill our campaign commitment to the building and maintenance of new and existing subways lines.
We are working with Toronto in good faith. The terms of reference commit both parties to assess options that move past the status quo. This includes a realignment of transit responsibilities.
While discussions around the TTC always get a lot of media attention, we are, of course, supporting transit services right across Ontario.
To help Ontario's municipalities continue to get ahead and prosper, we recently provided $364 million in gas tax funding to 107 municipalities that provide public transit service to 144 communities across Ontario.
These communities represent over 92 per cent of Ontario's total population.
Municipalities receiving gas tax funding can use these funds towards their public transit at their own discretion, including upgrading transit infrastructure, increasing accessibility, purchasing transit vehicles, adding more routes and extending hours of service.
But many municipalities do not have the population base or resources to support a public transit system, or to provide a sufficient level of transit service.
So there is a need for alternative approaches
That is why we announced support for local transit projects in communities across the province that will make life easier for people living in areas with few public transportation options.
The Ontario Community Transportation Grant Program will provide $30 million over five years to 39 municipalities to partner with community organizations to co-ordinate local transportation services.
We are supporting programs that will help Ontarians stay connected to their communities, so they can access employment and social programs, attend appointments, visit friends and family, and maintain an independent and active lifestyle.
Of course while everyone in this room has a passion for good roads, I know you also take a broader interest in municipal issues.
As Ontario's communities continue to grow it is important that the most effective plan is in place to manage it. Very soon we will start reviewing the feedback we have received on our proposed changes to Ontario's Growth Plan.
We want to ensure that municipalities can make their own decisions about how they grow. The Province will maintain protections for the Greenbelt, agricultural lands, the agri-food sector, and natural heritage systems.
We are proposing changes that would increase housing around transit hubs, attract investment, create and maintain jobs, and make growth planning easier for rural communities.
We have also heard your concerns over delays and excess costs associated with the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment process and your calls for class EA reform, I know many of you have written and spoken to the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks about these issues particularly.
I can assure you that you are being heard.
Our government is committed to ensuring that our province is open for business while maintaining strong environmental protections.
As noted in our Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan, we are seeking ways in which Ontario's environmental assessment process might be modernized.
Our environmental assessment process dates back to the 1975s and while then it may have been best-in-class, today its over 40 years old.
That said, we are looking for ways in which we can address duplication, streamline processes, improve service standards to reduce delays, and better recognize other planning processes and look forward to a full consultation on how to modernize Ontario's Environmental Assessments.
Our government will have more to say in the coming months on this issue.
And we look forward to continue working closely with you and other stakeholders on the revitalization of our environmental assessment program.
In closing, I'd like to thank all of you for everything that you do to keep Ontario's transportation network effective, well-maintained and growing.
I see many opportunities for us to work together as partners on priorities that will build stronger communities and contribute to a strong Ontario economy.
It's an exciting time in Ontario, and I'm looking forward to achieving great things together. I hope you enjoy the remainder of the conference.