While COVID-19 and its economic impacts are top of mind for Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff these days, he has his sights on infrastructure moving into 2021.
Niagara Info caught up with the 23-year-old Progressive Conservative MPP for Niagara West to see what is on his mind these days as the fall season gets underway, in a year like no other.
Predictably, COVID-19 is top of mind for Oosterhoff. “We’re definitely focused here locally on economic recovery while keeping a close eye on the numbers. We want to ensure that community transmission remains low.”
He says Niagara residents have been taking the pandemic seriously following health guidelines provided by the various levels of government. However, he worries about the sectors that have been hit hard by the economic impacts of COVID-19.
“We need to support our local industries because right now Niagara has lost 40,000 jobs in the hospitality and tourism sectors,” he said, adding that thankfully communities in the Niagara West riding have fared a little better than the more populous eastern communities in the Niagara Region. That’s because the local economy in West Niagara is tied more to agriculture and advanced manufacturing activities than tourism, which is the primary economic driver for communities like Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Worried about small businesses
Nonetheless, Oosterhoff said he has also been worried about businesses in his riding’s communities. “We’ve seen small businesses shutting down on Main Street in Grimsby…so (we need to) ensure that they receive the support they need through the government.”
To be sure, the Ontario government, led by Premier Doug Ford, has firehosed a litany of programs into existence to help people and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When those program announcements touch the West Niagara community, Oosterhoff is there to represent the community, as he did recently when Premier Ford visited Beamsville to announce a $2-million investment in a local firm that makes cleaning equipment.
Oosterhoff sees himself as a connector, navigator, and advocate. His role, he says, is to connect and inform. This incarnates in a variety of ways, but these days via Zoom, the widely used videoconferencing tool, adopted by many as a proxy technology for in-person meetings during the pandemic.
Much of his work is spent in these virtual meetings. He helps municipal leaders navigate provincial resources. He helps people looking for work connect with employers who have openings. His day-to-day work also includes a role as the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Education.
Advocating for infrastructure funding
Beyond helping constituents, a major part of his job, Oosterhoff says, is advocating for infrastructure dollars to flow into Niagara. “It’s easy for people in Toronto to forget that the world goes beyond the Burlington Skyway, and I’m always there to remind them that it does,” he said.
Top of mind for Oosterhoff is the new West Lincoln Memorial Hospital project in Grimsby. Development is underway, but it won’t be fully built for a couple of years yet. But Oosterhoff says he is keeping a close eye on it. Infrastructure is important to him, so the hospital project has his attention as it progressed, but he has a personal connection to the hospital too. It’s where he was born.
“They are now in the process of designing the physical space of the hospital behind the existing hospital, which will be torn down once the new one is once the new one is up,” he said. “So it’s a significant amount of infrastructure, $200 million. Ad it’ll be a great community hospital that will have an emergency department obstetrics…and the ability to meet the needs of a growing population.”
Oosterhoff said he is also focused on getting broadband Internet connectivity into the southern rural part of the riding. “We got the funding announcement from the Minister of Infrastructure a few weeks ago on that, so we’re making sure that’s rolled out into some of the more rural parts of the riding that don’t have broadband access,” he said.
A highway that bisects Niagara north/south through West Niagara is also top of mind going into 2021. That project is colloquially known as the Bartlett Extension.
Bartlett Extension needs to be built
Drivers exiting at Bartlett St. off of the QEW in Grimsby may have noticed that a robust exit ramp gives way to a multi-lane road that heads south. After it crosses Hwy. 8, it peters into a dirt road and terminates just before the Niagara Escarpment.
“It’s strange, like four lanes. And then it just ends up on the side of the hill…it should be connecting all the way up through into Smithville and connecting the whole area,” Oosterhoff said.
There are environmental assessment funds allocated now to look at the feasibility of building out the Bartlett Extension all the way to Smithville. However, even if all goes well, the road won’t be built for five to 10 years, said Oosterhoff.
That infrastructure project is critical because Smithville and the surrounding area is expected to grow exponentially in the next decade. Part of that expansion will be fueled by industrial parks that planners would like to see go into West Lincoln. That is because there is little land available for industrial use below the escarpment today.
The anticipated growth of industry into the West Lincoln area, above the escarpment, will create significant traffic headed into Grimsby and Lincoln, all destined to access the Queen Elizabeth Way, which is a critical transportation artery that connects the area to the rest of Niagara, the U.S. border and the airport in Hamilton, and on to the Greater Toronto Area.
To get to the QEW today, vehicles navigate roads down off the escarpment using slow and precarious roads like Woolverton Ave. and Mountain Rd, in Grimsby, however, they aren’t well designed for heavy industrial trucks carrying cargo.
“That growth is creating real congestion issues and actually safety concern with trucks, hundreds of trucks coming through the downtown cores. So we want to create a corridor there,” said Oosterhoff.
It’s a logical place to build industrial capacity because of its proximity to the Hamilton airport which currently has the highest volume of cargo flowing through any Canadian airport.
“You’re 15 minutes to the highway. You’re 25 minutes to the airport. But without that access to the highway becomes much more challenging, especially in the winter with heavy loads,” said Oosterhoff.
The project is critical for West Niagara communities and their future.
“Without that access to the highway, it becomes much more challenging, especially in the winter with heavy loads, said Oosterhoff.
And then there is the safety factor. “There’s the risk to residents. We’ve had people get killed.
He related a story from many years ago where a trucks brakes failed coming down Mountain Rd in Grimsby.
“It blew right through the front window and killed someone who was playing her piano in one of the houses,” he recalled.
The anticipated growth in the area will certainly require a safer road solution as West Niagara expands. The Barlett Extention may be the answer. And you can be sure, Oosterhoff will keep a close eye on the project, and foster it along.
Sam Oosterhoff’s MPP webpage
Sam Oosterhoff on Wikipedia