The federal government is setting tight deadlines for an expanded infrastructure program aimed at marking Canada's 150th birthday with new bike paths, arena upgrades and other small projects across the country.
The six regional development agencies released details Tuesday as to the type of projects that can apply for the $150-million in new funding for the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program.
Deadlines for submitting projects are June 22 for Western Canada, June 24 for Southern Ontario and July 8 in Quebec. Not all agencies have clear deadlines.
The rules and deadlines vary based on the region, but new common themes include a requirement that the projects fall under one of two categories: a clean growth economy or a better future for indigenous peoples.
The funding, which was first announced in the March 22 budget, is now being described as phase two of the program. The original program, which was also worth $150-million, was announced last year by the Conservative government.
In opposition, the Liberals described the program as a "strange" pre-election gambit aimed at generating photo-ops for Conservative MPs. Now in power, the Liberals have doubled the size of the program while adding the overarching themes to match the new government's priorities.
Similar tight deadlines announced by the Conservatives last year were attacked as "ridiculously short" by Ontario's Liberal government. Provincial Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid dismissed the Conservative program as "a glorified gazebo fund," in reference to former Conservative minister Tony Clement's use of a G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund to fund parks in his riding.
Mr. Duguid is currently away for health reasons. His spokesperson Andrew Forgione said this year's deadline is "tight" but municipalities did have advance notice this time via the March budget.
"While we prefer to see infrastructure funding go towards long-term projects that coincide with municipal asset planning, we are still pleased that communities were given additional time to prepare potential projects," he said in an e-mail.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains insisted that the expanded program is about responding to requests from municipalities.
"Obviously, the previous government essentially designed it just before the election. For us, it's really about setting up an opportunity to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary and focus really on infrastructure and communities," he said in an interview. Mr. Bains also said the original program was "oversubscribed," leading to the decision to increase the program's budget.
The original program was welcomed by many municipal leaders who had criticized the fact that community infrastructure such as hockey rinks were not eligible for funding under the much larger New Building Canada Fund.
In power, the Liberals have expanded the criteria for the Canada Fund programs so that tourism, recreation and municipal infrastructure now qualify.
Some regional agencies were faster than others in announcing projects under the original program. Not one project had been announced in Quebec until Tuesday, when five projects were unveiled in the Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine region.
The projects include $18,637 for "undulating sharks" and other playground equipment in Saint-Siméon, $40,250 for lighting and shelters at a softball field in Saint-François-d'Assise and $62,961 for several recreational projects in Havre-aux-Maisons, including a new beach volleyball court.
Alexandre Cusson, the mayor of Drummondville and vice-president of the union of Quebec municipalities, said the program is welcome. He also said he's glad to see the new rules address the fact that municipalities in Quebec were prevented from applying.
Mr. Cusson said the original restriction was due to a long-standing jurisdictional dispute between Ottawa and Quebec City related to municipal issues. However, he said there are promising signs that those disputes are now being addressed, which will allow more infrastructure projects to go ahead.
"Now that municipalities can apply and they've expanded the criteria, it's good news," he said. "It's a step in the right direction."
Stéphane Dufour, a director with Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions, said the agency has already received more than 900 submissions under the original program, but demand exceeds the amount of money available.
"We got a larger pickup than we were expecting," he said.