A federal board is warning Ottawa that doling out infrastructure cash based on population is shortchanging the North, where costs are much higher and communities are small.
In a report to be released on Wednesday, the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board is calling for changes to the way infrastructure money is spread across the country.
The federally appointed advisory board is particularly concerned with the rules for the New Building Canada Plan, a $14-billion, 10-year program that started in 2014. There is an urgency to the debate given that the federal Liberals have said the fund has about $10-billion left, and the government’s priority is to fast-track approvals under that program while it works on rules for the additional infrastructure spending promised during the election campaign.
“Since the majority of infrastructure funding is based on a per capita formula, it puts the north at a disadvantage compared to the south due to a substantially lower population,” says the report, which recommends Ottawa set up a new fund specifically for northern infrastructure.
“People don’t realize how difficult it is to live up north,” said Hilda Broomfield-Letemplier, president of Pressure Pipe Steel Fabrication Ltd. in Newfoundland and Labrador and a member of the economic development board that is releasing Wednesday’s report.
While the rest of Canada works itself into a frenzy over $7 cauliflower and other unpleasant aspects of a low Canadian dollar, northern Canadians have been dealing with exorbitant prices for years.
Getting food and other goods across the North is a costly logistical challenge owing to a wide range of infrastructure issues, including inadequate sea and airports and the reliance on ice roads and airstrips.
“We’re just so far behind. It’s so difficult for any business to come in,” Ms. Broomfield-Letemplier said, pointing to issues such as spotty dial-up internet. “They have to build infrastructure so they can start a business.”
Ms. Broomfield-Letemplier said the board executive has had positive initial discussions with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.
“The will from the government is there,” she said. “There’s huge opportunity for us to move forward now because of there being a new government in place.”
Infrastructure Canada spokesperson James Chow said the department will consider the report’s recommendations.
“The Government of Canada recognizes the important role infrastructure plays in addressing the economic challenges and opportunities in Canada’s north,” he said in a statement. Mr. Chow said the report “will be valuable in helping us to deliver on our infrastructure commitments in a way that makes sense for the North.”
The Liberal election platform acknowledged the high cost of living and economic development in the North, but offered few specifics related to financing major infrastructure.
Instead, the party’s platform document promised to expand a tax deduction for northern residents and to add $40-million to the Nutrition North program over four years to make healthy food more affordable.
It then pointed to the party’s nationwide-pledges to spend $40-billion on social and green infrastructure in areas such as affordable housing and climate change, “both of which are important to the quality of life for northern Canadians.Report Typo/Error