The summer construction season is passing by quickly, much like summer itself, and yet there appears to be a logjam when it comes to the $14-billion New Building Canada Fund that was announced back in March.
The fund, which was first announced in last year’s federal budget, was finally launched on March 31, and Brandon’s city administration was quickly out of the gate to get an application ready in anticipation of our city’s much-needed airport expansion.
But Brandon’s airport project has been at a standstill as officials have been waiting to hear if the city’s funding request will be given the OK for takeoff.
The major $8.8-million overhaul would see the McGill Field airport terminal building expanded to three times its current size, in order to better accommodate daily air service currently provided by WestJet and potentially attract service growth.
The city submitted its application more than three months ago through the province, as it is Premier Greg Selinger who will need to raise this project as a priority to the federal government.
The hope is to tap into the $10-billion provincial-territorial infrastructure component, which includes $1 billion set aside in the Small Communities Fund for local projects in communities with fewer than 100,000 residents.
When further details for the fund were released earlier this year, Brandon city manager Scott Hildebrand quipped that the city had been ready to go "since October."
However, either government bureaucracy or political expediency seems to be slowing down the process, and it’s having a major effect on infrastructure projects.
Last month, city council voted to officially support the airport expansion project — a requirement that had been added by the province after the application process began. This in spite of the fact that the premier said the airport project was one of the province’s major priorities, and promised to pay its one-third share of the project to see it through.
Nitpicking by provincial bureaucrats can certainly slow up the process somewhat, but that can’t be the only explanation for the paltry trickle of dollars coming out of the federal government’s much-vaunted fund.
Exasperated officials across the country have begun to air their complaints about the cash-flow delays to the media. Helen Rice, a councillor for the city of Grande Prairie, Alta., says she’s frustrated with the glacial bureaucratic process involved with distributing the funds.
"It means we’ve lost the construction season," Rice told the Daily Herald Tribune. "They say, ‘Well, you’re going to get the money.’ Well, you know what? We need the services and we’ve lost the construction season. Projects that we would have gone ahead with this year that will now be delayed. With our infrastructure deficit, we need that money to get the projects happening now."
Also, about a month ago, the Oceanside Star in B.C. reported that the offices of Denis Lebel, the federal minister responsible for Infrastructure Canada, and Industry Minister James Moore, the senior federal cabinet minister responsible for B.C., blamed the provincial B.C. government for holding up grant money for the $37-million Englishman River water treatment project.
And in Sydney, N.S., Mark Eyking, the Liberal MP for Sydney-Victoria, told the Herald News last week that municipalities across the country are facing the same problem, as money from the federal fund is not flowing quickly enough to take advantage of the construction season.
"If they really wanted this stuff to roll out this summer, they would have made it happen, because they already announced last fall that they were going to do it," Eyking said. "But I think they’re just pushing it ahead to balance the books and make themselves look good for next year."
And by "next year," Eyking means the upcoming federal election.
However, during a media scrum in Brandon yesterday, during a federal announcement of funds for the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum hangar renovations, Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire said money was starting to roll out to various projects, including up to $14.5 million for a $43.5-million project to extend water service in the RMs of Rockwood and Rosser, including CentrePort Canada.
Unfortunately, however, Maguire could provide no timeline for any funding announcement regarding Brandon’s airport. Just a faint hope that something would be in the offing soon.
"I’m sure hoping that it’s this fall at some point, because I’d like to be able to make sure that if they can’t get something done this fall, then it’s ready to go for next year," Maguire said.
Certainly work can be done during the winter months, but much less than could have been done had federal funds been approved earlier in the construction season.
The airport project is expected to take between 14 months and two years to complete, and in the meantime,WestJet passengers will have to put up with a cramped waiting area in an aging facility.
We trust Maguire and his office staff are working to secure available funds for Brandon. But we are growing concerned that the Conservatives are using the fund as a major tool for re-election at the expense of the country’s infrastructure needs.