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Politics Harper unveils $5.8-billion in infrastructure spending

Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes an infrastructure investment announcement at The Collider Centre at Western University's Advanced Manufacturing Park, in London, Ont., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014.

Dave Chidley/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Stephen Harper used a campaign-style event in Southwestern Ontario to unveil $5.8-billion in infrastructure projects – public works spending on everything from museums to small-craft harbours that should be creating jobs by the time an expected 2015 election takes place.

It's more cash for an area that rival Justin Trudeau has also identified as one of his centrepiece spending priorities. The Liberal Leader has said he'd cancel a $2.6-billion income-splitting tax break for parents announced by the Conservatives and invest it instead in areas such as infrastructure.

Mr. Harper frequently leaves it to ministers or MPs to unveil new infrastructure projects, but on Monday the Prime Minister took it upon himself to trumpet this big-ticket spending in London, Ont., speaking in front of a group of workers and a Canadian flag.

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It's the latest in a series of announcements by Mr. Harper, including a package of tax breaks presented in Toronto last month, that seem more like an election rally than a government program unveiling.

This targeted funding, aimed to build and repair federally owned infrastructure, will largely be spent over the next three years – timing that should help the Conservatives as they head to the polls in 2015.

"Infrastructure is the cornerstone of economic success," Mr. Harper said.

"We will be upgrading border facilities. We will invest in airports and rail service, in small-craft harbours and in shipbuilding yards," he said.

"We will be modernizing federal laboratories … we will be upgrading National Defence and RCMP facilities."

These projects were selected so they could be undertaken "reasonably quickly" and "provide jobs for Canadians now and better opportunities for the future," he said.

"Those Canadians who came before us built a strong country, a progressive country, a strong country that is truly the best in the world," Mr. Harper said.

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"Our government will be proud to build on these investments."

Mr. Harper cited Ottawa's rising fiscal fortunes as a reason for the announcement.

"Our financial position as a government has improved, we're going to balance the budget, [and] now is the time to make the longer-term investments that we're going to have to make anyway in federal assets," he said.

Prime Minister's Office spokesman Carl Vallée said the money is new rather than cash that was approved for infrastructure spending in past budgets.

"This is different than Building Canada Fund; it is new money," Mr. Vallée said, referring to a key infrastructure fund.

Projects include $500-million for the repair and construction of on-reserve schools for aboriginal Canadians.

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Other priorities include: $2.8-billion on infrastructure improvements to heritage, tourism, waterway and highways within national historic sites, national parks, and national marine conservation areas across Canada; $452-million to repair and upgrade Canadian Armed Forces facilities; $440-million to expedite the replacement of border infrastructure and $400-million to maintain, upgrade and construct federally owned buildings and other assets across Canada; $380-million for major repairs and upgrading of federal laboratories and research facilities; $288-million for repair and maintenance of small craft harbours; $204-million to support enhancements to federal airports as well as improvements to VIA Rail Canada Inc.'s infrastructure; $191-million to undertake renewal and repairs of heritage and museum sites; and $183-million for the repair and procurement of vessels and small craft for the Canadian Coast Guard and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale disputed the Tories' claim this is new cash, saying if it were a new appropriation it would require a mini-budget. He suggested the Tories are responding to criticism that there's not enough infrastructure spending in the next few years and a "very strong body of policy opinion" calling for more. "They're feeling the heat on infrastructure."

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