An infrastructure fund aimed at improving arenas, parks and community centres has started delivering federal cash two months after the program was unveiled.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program in May to provide $150-million over two years to 1,800 community facilities in recognition of Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017. The first project was announced on Monday, followed by five more on Tuesday.
Municipalities and non-profits were given only weeks to submit proposals, with regional agencies setting June deadlines for submissions. For example, FedDev Ontario, which administers the program in Southern Ontario, accepted applications from May 15 to June 9.
"Canadian communities and organizations are excited about the Canada 150 Infrastructure Program," Erica Furtado, spokesperson for FedDev Ontario Minister Gary Goodyear, said in a statement. "A tremendous amount of applications have been received from communities and organizations across Canada. As we approve applications for funding, we will announce them accordingly."
The program is based in large part on the Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund, which ran from 2012 to 2014 and also directed $150-million to fixing up arenas, community centres and parks through regional development agencies.
Conservative ridings received one-and-a-half times more of that infrastructure fund than opposition seats did, a recent Globe and Mail analysis found. An average of $561,332 and six projects each went to Conservative constituencies, while opposition-held ridings received $379,337 and four projects each, according to the count.
All six projects announced this week from the new Canada 150 program were in Conservative ridings in Atlantic Canada and Ontario.
Three of them, representing a total of $184,050, fall in the Nova Scotia riding of South Shore-St. Margaret's, where the long-time Conservative incumbent, Gerald Keddy, is retiring. Mr. Keddy has held the riding since 1997, beating NDP challengers by a few thousand votes or fewer in recent elections.
The other projects include $250,250 for an Antigonish, N.S., arena in the riding represented by retiring Justice Minister Peter MacKay; $267,045 for a courthouse in Hampton, N.B., in the riding represented by regional minister Rob Moore; and $144,322 for a public library in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in the riding represented by Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson.
"Infrastructure investments by the government are really important," New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said. "But … we've got ministers giving out cheques and waving taxpayer money like it's a gift from the Conservative Party."
Conservative MPs have been doling out infrastructure cash across the country since Parliament rose for the summer in June. In addition to Canada, many projects have been funded through a small communities component of the New Building Canada Fund, which is delivered by Infrastructure Canada.
About 3.8 million families also started receiving their first cheques from the Conservative government's enhanced Universal Child Care Benefit this week. Parents with children under 6 are entitled to $160 a month per child, while parents of seven- to 17-year-olds will begin receiving $60 a month per child. The first payments this week included July's benefit and a lump sum covering the first six months of the year.
The announcements take place as parties begin to campaign for the election expected on Oct. 19.