Why is Ford defying logic on his infrastructure decisions?



Gov. Doug Ford’s decision to defer $400 million in funding for a long-promised road and tunnel project to the province’s executive committee should make it even more clear that logic is not driving his government’s decisions. Yet, that is exactly the logic on which his decision rests, and it is this logic that has driven him to make ideological choices, to retrench with issues that are seen as ideological rather than data-driven, to ignore those pesky studies by local experts that show the need for more transit, and to set a precedent that could lead to other governments taking a similar approach, locking in decisions on infrastructure projects that no longer make sense, like the Herb Gray Parkway.

Even when Ford chose to support this tunnel, it still made strategic sense, but it did it on an entirely ideological basis, in comparison to the Fundo bridge that the Liberals had intended to design, build and manage. The Fundo bridge would require billions of dollars more in public investment over a longer period of time. At a time when there is still a very real risk that the Ontario government won’t be able to cover its bills, it would be an incredibly irresponsible choice to establish this project from the ground up. Indeed, a better option would have been to design the Fundo bridge and maintain the old infrastructure, allowing time to do the final design and to acquire the land to build it, which is what Doug Ford will now take time to do (and as we’ve seen, a major reallocation of funding will mean quite a few other priorities get cancelled as well).

This government would not have been able to support the original Project Fundo by spending money that it simply doesn’t have, and given that it was politically popular with many voters (and cost more to build than most bridge projects), it might have been considered a vote-winner. But despite that, Doug Ford has no confidence in either of those two facts, nor any belief that economics actually play a part in policy decisions. Or as Steve Pollock, the deputy minister for infrastructure, has explained, they believed the economy would grow and that they could cover the cost in time. This is a telling reflection of Ford’s government: they have a strange belief that by simply making a bad decision, the bad policy will suddenly be politically popular. As with most people, even those who are making choices to make things better often have a long time horizon, in which issues take time to emerge. A government that only feels comfortable making good decisions because the time horizon is short does not understand the burdens that sit between the options it has and those which it does not. And that creates difficulties, given the worsening impact of climate change.

The debate over Highway 413 is not the end of Ford’s plans to lock in bad policy decisions. Even if he decides not to build it, he has stated that he will take the $400 million and use it to backfill money for other projects that he’s cancelled. This would create a new funding shortfall that would benefit other, similar projects. The debates over funding for TransGrid and the bike and pedestrian infrastructure along the Eglinton Crosstown are at the same level of uncertainty, but their viability are well-established. Ford’s plan is to advance them anyway, because he has cut funding for the T1/T2 corridor, which he calls vital for growth. Ford’s approach is what governments do if they have no money to invest — make decisions based on ideology and provide a short-term solution while digging a tunnel in the process. It is deplorable that Doug Ford is willing to destroy infrastructure in order to advance such decisions, which aren’t sound.

Read the full column at The LRB.

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