Big city mayors like new federal infrastructure program

Minister says Ottawa wants to be flexible enough to respect the decisions of local governments

WINNIPEG – The mayors of Canada’s big cities expressed optimism about infrastructure funding following a meeting Thursday with federal Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi.

Some details of the $60-billion program still have to be worked out, and agreements must be signed by the provinces, but the mayors said they believe the federal government will be flexible and allow a wide variety of projects to qualify for funding.

“Certainly there are a number of us who have projects of one kind or another that may not fit exactly with what’s come out in phase one, and we put that question to the minister and … it was a good answer from our point of view,” said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, who chairs the big city mayors caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

“Today was a continuation of really unprecedented collaboration and discussion with our new federal partners,” added Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.

The first, $12-billion phase of the program is for shovel-ready projects – mostly roads, water treatment and transit systems – that can be completed by 2018.

The second, $48-billion phase is for longer-term projects, although planning for those can be funded under the first phase.

Iveson said some of the details to be worked out include how a long-term project might be funded under both phases.

“The sooner we know that money will be flowing in phase two, the easier it is to commit to moving ahead with the first smaller piece because you can build on top of that … knowing that instead of one kilometre of light rail, which might not be cost-effective, you’re going to build six kilometres and achieve something of scale.”

The federal government has already expanded eligible infrastructure to include smaller roads and ferry systems.

Sohi said the federal government wants to be flexible enough to respect the decisions of local governments.

“This is about ensuring that we are here to support local communities. Your federal government is not here to tell municipalities what to do and how to build the infrastructure.”

The meeting of big-city mayors preceded a meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which is to hear from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Friday.

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