As Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne embarks on spending billions of dollars on infrastructure, her government has no clear overall picture of the condition of its roads, buildings, schools and hospitals, according to the Ontario Auditor-General’s annual report.
“Currently, there is no consistency among ministries on how to measure the condition of various asset classes, such as highways, bridges, schools and hospitals,” says the report, released on Wednesday.
This means there is “no reliable estimate of its infrastructure deficit – the investment needed to rehabilitate existing assets to an ‘acceptable’ condition – to better inform where spending should be directed,” the report says.
The province owns $97.1-billion in assets, including public transit, 17,000 kilometres of provincial highways and 2,900 bridges, 5,000 schools and 24 colleges with 140 campuses, and 148 hospitals.
Ms. Wynne has staked part of her leadership on infrastructure investment, vowing to spend $134-billion over 10 years.
The report also paints a stark picture of a province with aging schools and hospitals – half of them are at least 40 years old – and where not enough money is being allocated to keep up with repairs.
For example, the report notes that independent assessments of hospitals over the past five years found that $2.7-billion was needed for renewal and repairs. This would require annual funding of $392-million to bring the facilities up to what is considered “good condition,” according to the report. But the amount allocated for 2014-2015 was only $125-million (up from $56-million).
In addition, the report indicates, the province has its infrastructure priorities backward. Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk points out that the province is focused on building new assets, with two-thirds of funding going to new buildings or expansions, while only one-third is planned for repairs.
But the government’s own analysis from the Treasury Board Secretariat, according to the Auditor-General’s report, says it “should be the reverse in order to adequately maintain and renew existing infrastructure.”
Although the government has been focused on maintaining roads and bridges, the Auditor General’s report notes that it has other transportation “assets” worth $2.5 billion, including median and noise barriers, traffic signals, overhead signs and lighting.
Progressive Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton, the economic development critic, said the report shows that the province’s infrastructure deficit is massive.
“I think taxpayers will be alarmed to know that $130-billion isn’t even going to be able to cut it,” he said.
He added that a lot of infrastructure spending under the Liberals is about “photo-op politics” and not about investing in what is already here.
Treasury Board President Deb Matthews said her government’s 10-year infrastructure plan calls for $11-billion in hospital capital grants; $11-billion to school boards for new schools and improvement of existing ones, and investment in transit.
She said new legislation requires the government to “develop a long-term infrastructure plan that includes a description of the current state of assets, anticipated infrastructure needs for the next 10 years and a strategy to meet those needs.”