Infrastructure money to flow once budget is passed: minister

Initial two-year phase of spending will "lay the foundation" for the Liberal 10-year infrastructure strategy.

TORONTO – Money for infrastructure projects meant to stimulate the economy, which will likely focus on repairs and maintenance in the first phase of funding, will start flowing soon — but not before the budget is passed, the infrastructure minister said Thursday.

Amarjeet Sohi told the Toronto Region Board of Trade an initial two-year phase of spending will “lay the foundation” for the Liberal government’s 10-year infrastructure strategy.

The current economic situation makes the need for those investments “urgent,” Sohi said after his speech, but added there is a process the government needs to go through.

“Once the budget is finalized and passed … then we will start getting money out to the communities as quickly as possible,” he said.

Sohi said his goal is to ensure investments can be made in the next construction season.

The original Liberal plan was to divide $60 billion among public transit, green projects, and social infrastructure like affordable housing over 10 years, with just $17.4 billion earmarked to flow during the party’s first mandate.

Insiders have told The Canadian Press the Liberals are “actively” considering speeding up delivery of the new infrastructure spending.

Sohi said he wants to heavily invest in repairs and deferred maintenance for the first two years of infrastructure spending, as those projects could be done quickly and help boost the economy this year.

“It’s not a shiny thing to invest in, water, wastewater and repairing the infrastructure, but that is critical to the quality of life,” he said. “Just imagine for a minute if your water, wastewater system fails. It’s a direct impact on health. It’s a direct impact on the health of the communities and a huge burden on the economy, so this is something that is needed.”

Sohi also said there is a need to spend money committed by the previous government.

“(They) allocated $1 billion for Alberta’s infrastructure in 2014, but unfortunately very little of that money has actually been invested into Alberta’s economy,” he said. “I think we have an opportunity to look at our existing funding and get that money out into Alberta, as well as economies throughout the country. This is money that has been allocated but has not been delivered.”

Alberta’s infrastructure minister has said it’s too early to say which projects in the province would be at the top of the list.

Sohi wouldn’t say how the new infrastructure money will be allocated, saying the criteria is being developed in consultation with municipalities, provinces and indigenous communities.

“We need to be nimble enough to adjust our programs to ensure we are investing throughout the country,” he said. “We’re going to leave the decisions to the local communities to make.”

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities praised the minister’s “collaborative” approach.

“Repairing and upgrading affordable housing, public transit, water systems, and other municipal infrastructure is crucial to our quality of life and to the Canadian economy,” said president Raymond Louie.

Conservative infrastructure critic Dianne Watts said while it’s important to invest in communities, but it’s also important to do it “responsibly and with a clear cut plan.”

“Any plan to invest and create growth cannot be achieved without responsible deficit management,” Watts said in a release.

“So far I haven’t seen a plan from the Liberal government that shows how big their deficit is going to be, what benchmarks they will use to measure if these investments are actually contributing to growing the economy, and what programs will be cut or what taxes will be raised in order to pay for it all.”

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