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Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes a funding announcement for Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations, in Quebec City, Thursday, June 25, 2015.Clement Allard/The Canadian Press

The federal government says it will soon be ready to hand out cash from a new Canada 150 program, just weeks after announcing the community infrastructure fund and setting tight application deadlines.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the program on May 15, saying it would fund the renovation of up to 1,800 community facilities like hockey rinks, community centres and bike trails in celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017.

Critics predict the Canada 150 fund will be used by the Conservatives to make feel-good announcements in the runup to the federal election. They also accuse the government of putting short-term politics ahead of longer-term infrastructure needs.

When the six federal regional development agencies released details for the program last month, municipalities were surprised by the varying rules and deadlines. For instance, the deadline in Southern Ontario was June 9, while Western Canada faced a June 17 deadline.

Some municipal leaders suggested they would not be able to get their applications submitted in time.

But William Wells, a spokesperson for Western Economic Diversification Canada, the regional development agency for Western Canada, said Monday the program has received a "tremendous" response.

"Canadian communities and organizations are excited about the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program," he wrote in an e-mail. "There has been a tremendous number of applications received from communities and organizations across Canada. We hope to begin announcing projects shortly."

A spokesperson for FedDev Ontario provided an identical statement and a spokesperson for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency said communities and organizations "are showing a high level of interest."

Updates from the other regional development agencies were not immediately available Monday.

The Canada 150 program, which is worth $150-million over two years, is based on an earlier fund called the Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund, which was also worth $150-million.

An analysis of that now-completed program published Monday by The Globe and Mail revealed that the federal cash went disproportionately to ridings represented by Conservative MPs. Ridings represented by the Conservatives received an average of $561,332 and six projects each, while opposition-held ridings received $379,337 and four projects each.

The government isn't waiting for the Canada 150 fund though. In recent days, Conservative MPs from coast to coast have made a flurry of infrastructure announcements, many of them from the New Building Canada small-communities fund that was first announced in 2013.

For instance on Monday alone, the government made six separate infrastructure announcements from the New Building Canada Fund and all of them were in Conservative ridings.

Conservative minister John Duncan announced $3-million for drinking-water improvements in Parksville and Nanoose, which is in the Conservative-held riding of Nanaimo-Alberni.

Conservative MP Larry Miller announced up to $909,500 for water-treatment improvements in Meaford, Ont., which is in his riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound.

Conservative MP John Williamson announced up to $130,074 for a wastewater project in McAdam, N.B., in his riding of New Brunswick Southwest.

And Conservative MP and minister Rob Moore announced up to $97,085 for a wastewater project in Petitcodiac, N.B., which is in his riding of Fundy Royal.

"This is the kind of pork-barrel politics Stephen Harper used to rail against," said NDP MP Charlie Angus. "This is money that should be used to improve communities across the country. Instead, it's being used as a war chest for the Conservatives who are trailing in the polls, so they're digging into taxpayers' funding to throw goodies around in Conservative ridings."

Liberal MP Scott Brison said the Conservatives are trying to buy votes with tax dollars ahead of the election.

"Projects should be prioritized based on merit, not politics," he said.

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