The provincial government says northwestern Ontario residents can look forward to the first phase of work to twin Highway 17 to the Manitoba border by 2024.

The government’s new completion target was announced in today’s provincial budget, Ontario’s Plan to Build, detailed by Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy in Toronto.

“The people of Ontario deserve a government that has a real plan to build,” said Minister Bethlenfalvy. “Our government’s Budget is Premier Ford’s vision and our plan to cut through the excuses and act right away on the priorities of the people of Ontario.”

Included in the budget’s Investing in Northern Highways section, Ontario says construction on Highway 17’s twinning work is expected to begin in May of 2022 after preliminary tree clearing and blasting work, and the first phase of work is expected to be complete by summer of 2024.

In March, Ontario announced they had awarded a contract to Moncrief Construction to widen the first section of Highway 17 from two lanes to four lanes, with work set to begin this spring. Construction is expected to created about 310 jobs for the area, with requirements to work with Indigenous partners.

The twinning is expected to be completed in three phases. Phase one of work will take place between the 6.5 kilometre stretch from the Manitoba/Ontario border to the junction of Highway 673 and the TransCanada.

The second phase of work, which still needs environmental assessments, approvals and support from the Four Winds Partnership, will include 8.5 km from Highway 673 to Rush Bay Road. The final stretch will be 25 km of work between Rush Bay Road and Highway 17A.

Kenora-Rainy River MPP and Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, Greg Rickford, had previously estimated the highway would be finished by 2025, after signing contracts with Indigenous communities and partners in late 2021.

The Province of Manitoba has not announced any twinning plans on their side of the border.

Elsewhere in the budget, Minister Bethlenfalvy says the government aims to rebuild Ontario’s economy with strong fiscal management, will ‘work for workers’ with supports for employees and businesses, will build highways and key infrastructure, keep costs down and will work to prevent any future COVID-19 lockdowns by supporting Ontario’s healthcare sector.

Highlights of the 2022 budget include a $0.50 increase to the general minimum wage by October 1, a 5.7 cents per litre cut to the gas tax by July 1, $300 in tax relief for workers who make under $50,000 annually, supporting work in the Ring of Fire area, new investments in electric vehicle production, and a $40 billion investment into capital work in Ontario’s hospitals.

Ontario is projecting a $13.5 billion deficit in 2021-22, with deficits of $19.9 billion by 2023, $12.3 billion by 2024 and $7.6 billion by 2025. The province adds its financial recovery plan will help to eliminate our deficit two years earlier than projected in last year’s budget.

Despite the Ford government’s lofty promises, the new budget document will not be passed through the Legislature before it’s dissolved by May 4, when Ontario’s election campaign officially begins. Instead, the budget will be brought back to the house if the Conservatives are re-elected on June 2.