Hey, OREA, we’re over here

The Ontario Real Estate Association has released a list of 10 infrastructure projects to enhance Ontario’s competitiveness. Just don’t go looking for Southwestern Ontario content

A RECENT REPORT from the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) has a simple pitch: “It is time for the next round of game-changing infrastructure investments,” they suggest.

“Ontarians have a history of building great things. The people of this province have transformed Niagara Falls into a massive source of emissions-free electricity, bridged vast geographic distances with railroads and highways, and built Canada’s first subway—a transformational transit project completed nearly 70 years ago.”

It’s with this in mind that, last week, the association, which represents the 78,000 real estate brokers and salespeople members of Ontario’s 38 real estate boards, released a report titled The Ten Infrastructure Projects for a More Competitive Ontario, which makes the case for government action on 10 infrastructure projects (some new, but most are ideas that have been discussed before) that they say will “future-shape” the province’s economy, and generate economic growth and sustained prosperity for Ontarians.

OREA makes a point to suggest the province would benefit from frequent and reliable rail service … between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal

When it comes to projects here in Southwestern Ontario, however, the report is unusually quiet. In fact, it highlights only one project — a renewed proposal to build a trade-focused highway through the Niagara Escarpment connecting Niagara and Hamilton, and the twinning the Peace Bridge to Buffalo — as being specific to the region (even if reasonable people could disagree on whether a Niagara-Hamilton highway truly represents an investment in Southwestern Ontario, as opposed to the Golden Horseshoe-GTA region).

“We talked about the importance of a trade route, because after Covid we’re very confident that supply lines are going to shrink and we’ll see a repatriation of manufacturing activity into North America,” says Tim Hudak, OREA’s CEO, discussing the proposed Niagara to Hamilton trade route with London Inc. “So, let’s strengthen that corridor between Buffalo and Fort Erie, all the way through to Windsor, Detroit, Sarnia and Port Huron.”

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Equally baffling is OREA’s vision for Southwestern Ontario’s future economy: one rooted in “manufacturing and resources in the trades,” says Hudak. “That’s why, for that part of the province, we put at the top of the list expanding the trade route from Fort Erie through London to the Windsor area.”

The report, with its vision of an economic future for the region based on manufacturing and trade, largely contrasts with other big-picture visions of Southwestern Ontario’s economic future. For instance, FedDev Ontario, a federal agency set up to invest in Southern Ontario, has consistently formed its mandate around the diversification of the regional economy, often investing in the scale-up of tech- and innovation-based firms to contribute to a more dynamic and knowledge-based economy.

Hudak notes that the report settled on 10 proposals for convenience, not because they were the only 10 they could think of. But those in the growing tech hubs (in London, in Waterloo, in Windsor) might also roll their eyes.

Hey, OREA, we're over here orea InfrastructureOntario Real Estate Association CEO, Tim Hudak

Take the suggested proposed investment in a high-speed, frequent rail infrastructure. OREA makes a point to suggest the province would benefit from frequent and reliable rail service … between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. It does not mention high-speed rail west of Union Station — something that might be found on just about any Southern Ontario infrastructure wishlist from the past four decades.

“People have talked about that, that could be another stage,” Hudak reasons. “But our goal is to get this on the government’s radar, and to get the projects moving. We thought the most compelling case was the build on the idea of Montreal to Toronto, but certainly a second leg has been talked about in the southwest. That may help that get going.”

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OREA, to their credit, conceived of this wishlist as a “starting point” — a first step to start a “dialogue on how to use infrastructure investment to enhance Ontario’s future economic prosperity.” And to be sure, province-wide investments in broadband access and green energy stand to benefit the entire region. What is less certain is why the OREA report largely ignores the infrastructure needs of Southwestern Ontario,  particularly given the regional growth in the very sector (housing) it represents.

“We want to see an Ontario where the next generation can flourish, with a greater take-home pay, larger wealth, better health and affordable homes,” Hudak says. “In order to get there, we do need to invest in infrastructure projects today that will be lifelines to attract investment and talent, and to save people those very precious commodities: time and money.”

And that is something that is as true in London, Windsor and Sarnia as it is in the GTA. Hey, OREA, we're over here orea Infrastructure Kieran Delamont

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