Ottawa pledges billions a year for new infrastructure, but mayors say more is needed

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

The federal budget’s new Building Canada plan is slated to unleash more than $47-billion in fresh funding over 10 years starting in 2014-2015. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Municipalities will receive billions in infrastructure spending in an austere federal budget, though some mayors who are on the front lines of fixing Canada’s ailing road and transit systems are complaining that the money isn’t enough.

Because of what Finance Minister Jim Flaherty deemed the “largest long-term federal commitment to Canadian infrastructure in our nation’s history,” the new Building Canada plan is slated to provide more than $47-billion in funding over a decade. Although more forward looking than the $33-billion over seven years promised in 2007, the blueprint was shy of the $6.6-billion annually over 20 years municipalities had initially championed.

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“Given the current economic times, what we’ve seen in this budget is the acknowledgment from the federal government that infrastructure is an investment,” said Karen Leibovici, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and an Edmonton city councillor.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and Vancouver city councillor Raymond Louie welcomed the budget with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but not everyone agreed with the federation’s self-described “glass half-full” view of Mr. Flaherty’s 10-year infrastructure plan, scheduled to kick in next year.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the budget doesn’t do enough to tackle the infrastructure deficit. NDP infrastructure critic Olivia Chow, who is considering a Toronto mayoral bid, is holding a press conference Friday to discuss what her camp called federal government infrastructure “cuts.” Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz told the Winnipeg Free Press that cities either need a larger portion of revenues or increased taxation powers if they are to successfully tackle their building backlogs. And Canada’s longest-serving mayor, Mississauga’s Hazel McCallion, accused the Harper government of advancing its political aspirations on the backs of cities.

Still, Ms. McCallion and other mayors, including Brampton’s Susan Fennell and Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, applauded Ottawa for indexing the gas-tax transfer, which the FCM said translates into $9-billion in additional funding over the next 20 years. The government also pledged to tie federal construction and maintenance contracts to the employment of apprentices and will soon require that certain projects with capital costs of more than $100-million be considered for public-private partnership.

With reporting from Dakshana Bascaramurty in Toronto and Justine Hunter in Victoria

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