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Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Denis Lebel speaks in the House of Commons on Nov. 16, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Denis Lebel speaks in the House of Commons on Nov. 16, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Infrastructure Minister kicks off talks with provinces, cities Add to ...

Ottawa is launching talks with Canada’s provinces and cities on what a future long-term infrastructure plan should include.

Government briefing materials suggest the talks will take a year, yet will not get into the details of what specific projects governments should pay for under a new plan.

Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Denis Lebel announced the process Wednesday morning and is scheduled to comment further during a luncheon speech to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which is meeting in Ottawa.

There has been a fair bit of focus on the fact Ottawa must renew all three of its current transfer deals with the provinces – for health, social programs and equalization – because they all expire in 2013-14. However the existing federal plan for infrastructure – the $33-billion “Building Canada Plan” approved in 2007 – also expires in 2014.

The federal government’s 2011 budget promised it would work with municipalities on a new long term funding plan, which would be in addition to the government’s pledge to make the $2-billion-a-year transfer of gas tax revenue permanent.

The House of Commons transport committee has been holding hearings on the issue throughout the fall and is currently working on a list of recommendations.

The committee has heard that federal funding for infrastructure can be a challenge because priorities vary dramatically across the country, largely dependent on the size of a community. For instance, public transit, gridlock and commuter times are high priorities for citizens in Canada’s largest cities, while public transit is far less of a priority in smaller communities.

Mr. Lebel and his Conservative government are under particular pressure to address the crumbling infrastructure in Montreal, where crumbling overpasses have already led to injuries and deaths and major repairs are needed to avoid further troubles.

The process outlined Wednesday by Mr. Lebel would roll out in three phases. The first phase – running into the winter of 2012 – is about “taking stock” of past approaches to infrastructure spending. The second phase – from winter to summer 2012 – is called “identifying priorities” around broad themes, rather than specific projects. The third phase – running into the fall of 2012 – will “explore the broad principles and future directions for public infrastructure in Canada.”

Federation of Canadian Municipalities president Berry Vrbanovic praised the government announcement in a statement.

“This is a promise to put aside band aid solutions, and find the cure for the infrastructure deficit once and for all,” he said.

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