OTTAWA – Canada’s infrastructure minister says he expects Ottawa and most of the provinces to sign agreements in the next month to allow new infrastructure money to flow to cities.
The funding agreements are a key milestone in the government’s new infrastructure program because the billions promised to municipalities can’t reach them without provinces signing on the dotted line.
Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi laid out the framework of the agreements in letters to his provincial counterparts late last month.
Template agreements were sent to provinces and cities as well, Sohi says.
Sohi told two Senate committees Wednesday night that the pace of negotiations leads him to believe the majority of provinces will sign agreements by June, just in time for money to arrive by the summer construction season.
“If there’s one thing that I lose sleep over it’s that. We don’t want to miss the construction season,” Sohi told senators on the transport and communications committee.
The Liberals pledged in the budget, flowing from a campaign promise, to double infrastructure spending over the next 10 years to bring the overall federal investment to $120 billion.
The first two years of the new infrastructure program has $6.6 billion for provinces and cities, not including money promised to First Nations infrastructure or to universities.
The first phase is focused on repairing the aging water and public transit infrastructure in the country and for smaller projects that can be completed by 2019. There is also money available for planning larger projects that are to be the focus of the second phase of the program.
The government wants to fund “shovel-worthy” projects, Sohi said, meaning that they meet three key goals for the government: stimulate the economy, more easily move goods and people, and reduce or mitigate the effects of climate change.
Any projects that don’t meet those goals won’t receive funding under the government’s new program, Sohi said.
Sohi said the criteria for the second phase, the details of which will be released next year, will be clear enough that cities won’t spend any planning money on projects that the government won’t fund.
Sohi was also pressed about why the federal government was not planning a toll for the new Champlain Bridge. The bridge is expected to cost $4.23 billion and be completed by 2018.
Sohi said the government saw the new bridge as a replacement for an existing, and aging federally-owned bridge that didn’t have tolls on it. He said that made it different than bridges like the Confederation Bridge that connects Prince Edward Island to the mainland and has had a toll since it opened.
Nova Scotia Sen. Michael McDonald said the federal government should have tolls on all of its bridges so drivers in all parts of the country are treated equally.