OSHAWA—The federal government is consistently making spending announcements in competitive Ontario ridings in the run-up to the fall election, analysis by QP Briefing shows.
Meanwhile, the federal Liberals have made an effort to promote the idea that, if the federal Tories win power, they’ll make funding cuts like the ones seen by their provincial counterparts.
The political dynamic was on display in Oshawa, where Ajax MP Mark Holland announced a $17.5-million investment for a new multi-purpose facility in Ajax for children with special needs in the Durham Region. This infrastructure announcement — like all others made in Ontario over the past month by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals — have been in competitive ridings, each of which were won by single digits during the 2015 federal election.
Holland denied that the recent spending announcements were part of the government’s election strategy. Instead, he said the government had been planning for the facility in Ajax for over two-and-a-half years and blamed the provincial government for the delay.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the funding we announced a long time ago, the province hadn’t opened up their infrastructure stream. So there’s a big delay. And the province is just now starting to open up that infrastructure stream, so that’s why you’re seeing some of these [announcements] being released.” said Holland.
“This is my sixth election, and I can confidently say that every riding is important to us, and we [Liberals] try to give priority and invest in every riding regardless of how they vote.”
Thus far, the biggest infrastructure investments by the federal government in Ontario have been made in the fiercely competitive 905 region — 30 ridings from Burlington in the southwest to Clarington in the east, consisting of the regions of Halton, Peel, York and Durham. These suburban ridings are closely monitored in federal and provincial elections, as they have almost always voted for the party that formed government in recent history.
Recent 905-region investments from the federal government include $1.45 million for a manufacturing facility in Oakville, where the federal Liberals won the seat with a margin of less than 7 per cent of the vote. In Markham-Unionville, where the Conservative Party took the riding by a 6 percentage point margin, a $2-billion women’s entrepreneurship strategy investment was introduced by the government. And in King-Vaughan, where Liberals won the riding by a 3 percentage point margin, an additional $3 million for a new manufacturing facility to create clean technology was invested.
In the riding of Oshawa, the federal Conservatives took the win by 6 percentage points over the NDP, which is strong in the area, and by 10 percentage points over the Liberals. The riding has since been rocked by announced job losses at the local General Motors plant.
The Durham Region is a Conservative stronghold, with all regional seats held by the party. This parallels the current provincial seats in the region, where all provincial ridings, except Oshawa, are represented by the Progressive Conservative Party.
Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips announced the provincial government is working with the feds towards infrastructure projects in Durham and would provide $31 million for the new facility in Ajax.
“With infrastructure works like these, there was no politics, no debate,” said Phillips, who was named the finance minister in late June. “We listened to the community and the needs of the people, and both governments knew we had to work together for this investment to be made.”
Both the provincial and federal government had previously accused each other of playing politics on infrastructure spending. In July, a Bombardier manufacturing plant laid off 700 workers in Thunder Bay, which led Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to point fingers and accuse the other of not stepping up.
Last week, Trudeau made comments comparing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to Ontario’s premier, saying, “The middle class does not need another Doug Ford,” part of an effort to tie the federal politician to the least popular conservative politician in the country, according to a recent Abacus Data poll. When asked if he was concerned that Ford’s unpopularity would hurt the federal Conservatives in a riding like Ajax, Philips responded in full, “No.”
Queen's Park Press Gallery intern Yusra Javed is going into her fourth year at Ryerson University, where she studies journalism. You can follow her on Twitter @_YusraJaved