Municipalities were unable to make effective use of the federal government’s Building Canada Plan because they didn’t have enough time to plan and complete the projects, a top municipal affairs lobbyist said Thursday at the Keystone Centre.
Association of Manitoba Municipalities Doug Dobrowolski said the preference for shovel-ready projects completed under a tight timeline meant in some cases that more critical infrastructure needs didn’t get dealt with.
Dobrowolski said the new federal infrastructure funding program must have stable, long-term funding to be effective.
"We are hoping it’s a five- to 10-year program so it gives municipalities time to plan," Dobrowolski said. "I know the federal government wants to focus on the hard infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water and sewer, but we are saying social infrastructure such as rinks, arenas, are important and everything is on the table."
Brock Carlton, the CEO of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said one of the challenges in formulating a national infrastructure program are that the needs vary across the country. While roads and bridges are a concern throughout the country, Montreal has wooden water pipes.
"The fundamental issue is that everyone agrees that something has to be done about infrastructure," Carlton told those attending the AMM municipal officials conference.
Municipal governments will also ask that the gas tax revenue they get from the federal government be indexed to inflation, so the funding keeps pace with cost increases.
The current Building Canada Fund expires in 2014, and municipal governments are expecting longer term plans of some kind to replace it. The question asked by municipal leaders is what replaces that program, and how long will that program last?
"With infrastructure, my concern is for smaller communities and the 3P (public-private partnerships) fund the Government of Canada set up talks about a $100-million minimum," Virden Mayor Jeff McConnell said. "Nobody, not even Brandon, will apply for a $100-million 3P investment."
McConnell pointed to a project in Ottawa, where a library was built and partially paid for through a housing project with suites on floors above the library.
"Why can’t I do that in my town?" McConnell said, citing a need for both a library and more housing units in Virden.
Neepawa Mayor Ken Waddell called the $100-million cap on public-private partnerships "ridiculous."
"We all know there is an infrastructure deficit," Waddell said. "We are all facing that. We also know that any delay of a few years …means at least a doubling of the costs and we’ll never get caught up. So this idea of a 3P need to be strongly looked at because we know that governments, be they provincial or federal, are somewhat tapped out. Municipal governments are tapped out and there’s resistance to more tax increases."
Minnedosa Mayor Ray Orr said infrastructure spending on recreation projects, sometimes seen as a frill, are necessities for community growth.
"I used to hear these arguments when I lived in Winnipeg," Orr said. "Why would you build an art gallery or Rainbow Stage when you have potholes or when the plumbing needs to be fixed? Well, you can have the best streets and plumbing in the world, but if they don’t go anywhere, what’s the point?"
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 13, 2012