By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
A few months ahead of the federal election, Durham has made its priorities clear.
The region recently released a report identifying eight priority areas for federal investment in 2019.
Regional chair John Henry says similar lists have been compiled in the past, but is unsure “if it’s been done to this extent.”
At the head of the table for Henry is the federal government’s commitment to building the long-proposed Pickering Airport.
“If you look at the Pickering Airport, it’s half the size of Pearson [International Airport], it would create somewhere near 150,000 jobs,” Henry says.
While the airport is proposed to be on agricultural lands, Henry says it doesn’t necessarily mean that component can’t be maintained while also “moving goods and people and creating opportunities for young people to work.”
Regional council placed the ball directly in the federal government’s court in May, requesting a firm commitment to the project.
However, Pickering-Uxbridge Liberal MP Jennifer O’ Connell told The Oshawa Express she doesn’t believe the current federal government will support it.
“The official position of the government and Transport Canada is that a Pickering Airport would not be considered without a strong business case, and so far that has not been done,” O’ Connell said.
Henry also highlights the need for federal investment in rail transit in Durham Region.
While transit is a provincial matter, the region is appealing to the feds to support the original Lakeshore East expansion with stops at Thornton Road, downtown Oshawa, Courtice, and Bowmanville.
Citing increased costs, Metrolinx is currently reviewing this option and three others, with a decision expected in the fall.
Other priorities identified by the region include an integrated regional rapid transit network, and extending access to broadband Internet across Durham.
The federal government has already committed $95 million towards transit in Durham Region, and Henry said the quick distribution of these funds and timely approval of projects will help build the regional network.
The rural areas of Durham Region have some of the slowest Internet speeds in the GTA, and the region itself is currently developing a broadband strategy to address service gaps and improve affordability.
The region will partner with Internet service providers to support the expansion of broadband services, and to attract funding from the federal government’s Connect to Innovate program.
The regional chair is also calling on federal attention to climate change.
“It’s time to shine some light on it,” Henry says.
Other priorities include infrastructure rehabilitation and expansion, recovering resources from waste streams, and social services such as child care and affordable housing. Henry concedes the loss of production at Oshawa’s GM plant hits hard, but sees the aerospace industry as a vessel to recover some of the jobs lost in the automotive industry.
“That’s a long-term vision that will create opportunities to keep the brightest and most talented individuals in Durham Region,” Henry says.
Henry plans to bring all these issues to local candidates before October’s election.
“I hope that we have a conversation and that the candidates running in the next federal election read this and ask questions, because I’ll be asking questions of them about what they support and what they don’t support,” Henry states.
“Durham Region is in the position to help drive the economy of Ontario and this country, and that’s what we’re trying to tell them.”