Alex Binkley on Tory shell game

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ...

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Tory infrastructure plan a shell game, Liberals charge

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
The Harper government has announced a 10-year, $53 billion renewal of the Building Canada program in the 2014 budget but it appears the program is long on illusion for the next few years.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities wanted something solid enough that cities and towns could embark on badly needed road, sewer and other upgrades by April 1.
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At a recent meeting of the Commons transport committee, Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel couldn’t even put a figure on how much additional money would be available for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Most of the funds promised by the government won’t be available until the final years of the program, says Liberal critic David McGunity. “The new program is just a Conservative shell game.
“The government’s only interest is to be able to say before the 2015 election that it has balanced the budget,” he explains. “By taking more action now, it could stimulate economic growth.”
There will only be $210 million in new federal funding available to municipalities in need of financial help with pressing road and waterworks repairs for 2014-15 fiscal year.
For 2014, there will be $2 billion for municipalities and provinces to share from the federal gas tax refund and another $1 billion from the GST rebate, he noted. Both features were carried over from the original 2007 Building Canada Fund. As well there will be $6 billion carried over to pay for projects that were started but not completed under the old program.
Apparently alarmed by what McGunity might say, a spokeswoman for Lebel issued a statement before a Liberal news conference. It said, “The third party Liberals have been desperately trying to misinform Canadians for weeks on the new plan.”
The new plan “will be open for business by March 31, 2014,” she added. “At that time, it will be possible for Infrastructure Canada to assess specific project proposals.”
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has complained for months that it has been unable to get any concrete information on how the new program will work. Municipalities want to be able to start infrastructure construction projects on April 1.
Lebel testified to the Commons transport committee on March 25 about the Building Canada Fund. Afterward, FCM said the minister had said nothing new.
During his hour long appearance, Lebel was unable to say how much money municipalities could access during 2014 beyond the gas tax. Nor could he say when the details of the plan to have projects worth more than $100 million be built by public-private partnerships would be available.
McGuinty said the effect of the Conservative plan will be to slash infrastructure funding by 87%. “Investing in infrastructure will increase our productivity, reduce traffic gridlock, improve our quality of life, and make Canada a more attractive place to invest, creating jobs for middle class families. Instead the Conservatives want to eliminate the deficit at the cost of important investment in the infrastructure” needed to improve the health and economic vitality of Canadian cities. “They’re bringing in austerity cuts that compromise that.”  

Alex Binkley