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Infrastructure needs pressing

“There will be money for infrastructure, and very importantly, major infrastructure projects in Canada, major economic infrastructure projects.”

— Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty

When Flaherty releases his much anticipated federal budget later today, it’s expected that one of the key components will be the delivery of new infrastructure cash to projects across the country.

Manitoba municipalities, including the City of Brandon, have been anxiously awaiting details around the New Building Canada Plan, a 10-year, multibillion-dollar fund aimed at so called “hard infrastructure” projects such as roads, bridges and water systems.

The updated fund was announced during Flaherty’s 2013 budget speech, and was always slated to begin in 2014-15.

In the meantime, since that initial announcement, municipal governments have been drawing up infrastructure project wish lists — or in Brandon’s case, a “need list” — and lobbying various government bureaucrats to keep projects on the federal radar. Brandon submitted a list of 10 projects in an effort to cash in on the Tory government’s announced infrastructure funding.

Unfortunately, overshadowing the keen anticipation felt by local municipalities over today’s budget speech is a growing awareness that the funding application process, when it finally opens, will be far too late for local governments to access this year’s construction season.

When former Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed left politics last August, the Sun reported that applications for the fund were expected to come out in the fall of 2013, but to date the application process has yet to begin.

In Monday’s Sun, Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said she was “quite surprised” that no information regarding the Building Canada Fund had been sent out yet.

“We can’t afford to miss construction season,” Decter Hirst said. “We’re getting very, very close to that deadline.”

This city has some pretty large projects on the go that could certainly use an injection of federal cash. The largest include upgrades to the Brandon Municipal Airport and the widening of the Daly Overpass on 18th Street, of which the latter will require a three-way funding agreement with the province and the federal government.

Still others on the “need list” include the reconditioning of the Sportsplex, addressing overland flooding, and replacing 100-year-old city sewer and water lines.

When contacted by the Sun yesterday, Drew Ostash in Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire’s office said he expected that Flaherty would provide further information on the new Building Canada Fund today, with an announcement pending later this week regarding when the application process will begin.

Ostash says that could be within the next two months, though he was not entirely sure.

In order to alert local governments to be ready to go when the process finally begins, Maguire’s office recently sent out a letter to municipalities within the constituency outlining the three streams of funding under the New Building Canada Plan. They include:

• A 10-year, $32.2-billion Community Improvement Fund, much of which will be filtered through Gas Tax Fund payments;

• A New Building Canada Fund worth about $14 billion in support of major economic infrastructure projects that have a national, regional and local significance;

• And a $1.25-billion Renewed P3 Canada Fund (public-private partnerships).

We have to hand it to city administration in this particular case — by all accounts Brandon has been ahead of the curve by drawing up its list and keeping folks in Ottawa and the Manitoba legislature aware of it. City efforts even drew praise from Maguire’s office yesterday.

“The city is ready to go,” Ostash said.

And as Brandon city manager Scott Hildebrand quipped on Monday, the city has been ready to go “since October.”

But even if the application process began next month, it will still take time to fill out the documentation, and take still further time to process them. There’s still a tendering process that must be conducted for any construction project — that too takes time. And as the mayor said, the window for that process is nearly closed.

We also note that there’s no guarantee any of these projects will receive the necessary federal funding to move forward, leaving the city’s hands tied, and projects in limbo.

That’s unfortunate, because it likely pushes back completion of some very important local projects by at least a year.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 11, 2014

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“There will be money for infrastructure, and very importantly, major infrastructure projects in Canada, major economic infrastructure projects.”

— Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty

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“There will be money for infrastructure, and very importantly, major infrastructure projects in Canada, major economic infrastructure projects.”

— Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty

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