Kenora MP Bob Nault says that the ‘stars have aligned’ for the federal and provincial governments to begin work on twinning the Trans-Canada highway. He says that the first phase of the project, from the Manitoba border to Rush Bay, is virtually ready to go – and could begin as early as spring, 2019.
Nault’s comments come following four local First Nation communities signing an agreement to work together with the Ministry of Transportation to help build the highway. Chief Erwin Redsky from Shoal Lake #40, Chief Marilyn Sinclair of Washagamis Bay, Chief Chris Skead of Wauzhushk Onigum and Chief Lorraine Cobiness of Dalles First Nation signed the agreement in Thunder Bay on Monday.
“I want to thank the Chiefs and their communities for their support,” said Nault. “They’re signalling their active interest in participating in twinning the Trans-Canada Highway, and starting off on the west end and then moving to Kenora and beyond. It’s a really positive announcement that everybody is willing and ready to go to work with the province of Ontario to finally twin the highway, after over nine years.”
Local First Nation communities have been awaiting the construction of Freedom Road before work would begin on twinning the highway. Freedom Road will give Shoal Lake #40 community members access to the mainland – ending a century of isolation and travel by dangerous ice roads in the winter and by boats and a ferry in the summer months.
Paving on Freedom Road has not yet been completed, and the road is not yet connected to the Trans-Canada. Construction is set to continue into early next year, but the road is set to be used for local traffic in early December. The $40 million project is funded by the federal government, the Manitoba government and the City of Winnipeg.
Nault continues to target spring, 2019 as the construction start date for the Trans-Canada twinning. He says that the first phase of the project is ready to go, and is just awaiting a formal announcement from the federal and provincial governments. The project was originally announced in 2009.
“I’m looking forward to the announcement this spring for phase one. From what I understand, phase one is virtually ready to go. By spring, we should have no difficulties getting tenders and start moving on that initiative.”
Environmental assessments and engineering on the first phase of the project began again earlier this year, and are now complete. The assessments were previously completed when the project was originally announced, but had to be updated before construction could begin.
“There’s no reason why it has to be delayed past spring if we all have the political-will and put our best foot forward. Phase one is technically ready to go, and that 15 to 20 kilometres goes up to Rush Bay. We should just get on with that first phase, and then work on the second and third phases. The second and third phases, for the sake of argument, that will get us to Kenora in the next two to three years.”
Last August, Nault said he was 'shocked' by a provincial report that said it could take until 2021, before the project moved ahead. Since then, he has continued to stress that moving the project forward was a high priority for the federal MP.
When the project was announced close to a decade ago, the federal and provincial governments each set aside $50 million for the project. The funds were announced by former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Greg Rickford – while he was a federal MP for the Kenora riding.
Rickford, now the Northern Development Minister and Kenora Rainy-River MPP, has previously openly-wondered if money for the project had been spent in other parts of the region. He had been searching through the Ministry of Transportation’s records for more information regarding where the money had been spent, and theorized that the $100 million was used to build the 37 kilometres of four-lane highway between Thunder Bay and Nipigon.
Now, Nault is confirming Rickford’s theory – but is encouraging the minister to not use that as a ‘political excuse’ for the delay.
“I want to challenge Minister Rickford to stop talking about what happened under the previous government of Ontario, and what happened with as he puts it - ‘where did the money go?’. I can tell him that the money was taken and moved to another location and used to twin the highway east of Thunder Bay.”
“Let’s just get on with the job, and not use excuses about where the money went. The money was used in a useful way because we were not ready to go and there was no consensus on moving forward. $100 million doesn’t sit in a bank account for a decade. We had to use it or lose it.”
While the $100 million previously set aside for the project is gone, Nault is confident that the federal and provincial governments will be able to find new revenues for project.
“Both the federal and provincial governments will have to work together to find more resources and revenues through the Canada-Ontario Infrastructure Program. I’m looking forward to working with Minister Rickford, the provincial government and my own government to get that done this summer.”
The Canada-Ontario Infrastructure Program represents a $680.7-million federal investment in partnership with Ontario, its local governments, and the private sector. The program invests in urban and rural municipal infrastructure in Ontario, and has stimulated more than $2 billion in capital investment.
“Cost-sharing between federal and provincial governments can be easily done. Minister Rickford has the potential and abilities to do that. He sits in the provincial cabinet so there’s no reason to not make this a high priority. He can even press his colleagues with Premier Doug Ford making this project a commitment during his campaign.”
At the end of the day, Nault stresses that regardless of political ‘excuses’ or agendas, the project needs to be completed for the sake of northwestern Ontario residents’ safety.
“The stars have all aligned with federal, provincial, and First Nation support to start building and twinning the Trans-Canada Highway. Let’s just get on with moving forward on a project that all of us in northwestern Ontario agree needs to be done. There’s no political excuses to not get it done.”
Shoal Lake #40 community members are also hoping that the twinning of the Trans-Canada and Freedom Road’s completion will eventually lead to a new water treatment plant, to end the community’s generation-spanning boil water advisory – an initiative that the federal government is keeping a close eye on across the nation.
The federal government continues to say that they will end all long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves by March of 2021. Seventy-one long-term drinking water advisories have now been lifted from public water systems on reserve since November 2015.
For more information:
Meeting on twinning
More progress made on Freedom Road