The Conservative government is preparing an infrastructure spending spree in the runup to the fall election, as federal and provincial sources confirm work is heating up to announce new projects under the New Building Canada Fund.
The $14-billion program was first announced more than two years ago, but a Globe and Mail analysis reveals that only about $1.2-billion has so far been rolled out. The breakdown shows that the vast majority of approved projects are in small communities in just two provinces, Manitoba and New Brunswick. The two sections of the fund dedicated to larger projects have barely been touched.
That is expected to change shortly. The flurry of announcements will represent an attempt by the Conservative Party to bolster its image on the infrastructure file ahead of a campaign that is expected to focus heavily on issues such as traffic congestion and public transit.
The Building Canada announcements of both large and small infrastructure projects will be in addition to many smaller ones expected to flow from a Canada 150 Community Infrastructure fund that Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently launched to pay for $150-million worth of projects across the country.
The $14-billion, 10-year Building Canada fund has three sections: $4-billion is set aside as a National Infrastructure Component that is meant to focus on projects of a national significance that have "broad public benefits." The remaining $10-billion is called the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Component and it is broken down into two parts: $9-billion for "national and regional projects" and $1-billion for a small-communities fund that is limited to municipalities with fewer than 100,000 residents.
"They're just having so much trouble getting the money out the door," said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who expressed frustration in an interview that a second construction season is at risk of being lost due to delays with the program. "Particularly at a time of economic downturn where we'd like to keep construction folks employed here in Alberta, it's untenable and it's taking way too long."
The outspoken mayor said the looming election is likely creating a sense of urgency in Ottawa.
"I think they're realizing an election is coming and none of this money has flowed yet," he said.
The analysis of announcements to date reveals that only two projects have so far been confirmed under the $4-billion national component: Ottawa is contributing $25-million toward the expansion of a privately owned airport in Fort McMurray and $43-million for upgrades to the federally owned Port of Montreal.
Of the 90 projects announced so far, 66 fall under the small-communities fund. While each project was announced with much fanfare by local Conservatives, those projects represent just $55-million of the $1.2-billion that has so far been allocated.
The two national projects are worth a combined $68.7-million, while the remaining 22 projects under the provincial component are worth more than $1.1-billion.
The analysis shows some provinces – including Manitoba and New Brunswick – were quick to receive a large number of small projects, while other provinces have seen little activity. British Columbia and Quebec have only had one project announcement, while Newfoundland and Labrador has not had any announcements.
Alberta has received two projects worth a combined $175-million; Saskatchewan has received six projects and $233.7-million; Manitoba has secured 29 projects and $43.1-million in total; Ontario has had two projects approved – the Scarborough subway extension worth $660-million and a $62.08-million contribution for a City of Ottawa project to prevent raw sewage from flowing into the Ottawa river; Quebec has only received the Port of Montreal funding worth $43.7-million; New Brunswick has been awarded 41 projects worth a combined $112.1-million; Nova Scotia has received seven projects worth $42.7-million and Prince Edward Island has received two projects worth a combined $5.7-million.
The slow pace of projects recently led to intergovernmental tension in Alberta, when Calgary Centre Conservative MP Joan Crockatt issued a statement urging the new NDP government and Mr. Nenshi to apply for federal infrastructure dollars that are "sitting unused."
Mr. Nenshi fired back, saying the city did submit three proposals. Two have been rejected while a third is under consideration by Ottawa.
Vincent Rabault, a spokesperson for federal Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel, noted that the fund covers a 10-year span, meaning announcements will be spread out over time. However, he did indicate that several projects will be announced soon.
"We will be in a position to make interesting announcements this summer," he said in an e-mail.
Ontario Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid noted that federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver criticized the province in November for not submitting its list of projects. Yet since the province submitted its list, it has been waiting months for an answer.
"We recognize it is a federal election year," Mr. Duguid said. "But I think what we want to do is make sure that political priorities don't take precedence over the public good and we want to make sure that we get these projects out the door before the current building season becomes too short for them to get done [this year]."
Ontario's Liberal government is often at odds with federal Conservatives. Yet different political stripes have not prevented Manitoba's NDP government from getting projects approved.
"There's a lot of good co-operation of all three levels of government here in Manitoba," said Doug Dobrowolski, president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, when asked to explain why his province was among the first to have projects announced.
BUILDING CANADA FUND
The $14-billion Building Canada Fund has three sections. Below is a breakdown of how much each is worth and a summary of what's been announced so far.
The National Infrastructure Component ($4-billion)
Only two projects have so far been announced under this section: $25-million to expand the Fort McMurray airport and $43.7-million for the Port of Montreal.
The Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Component, national and regional projects ($9-billion)
22 projects have so far been announced in this category, worth $1.1-billion. Examples include highway expansions in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, a light-rail project in Edmonton and new buses in Moncton.
The Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Component, small-communities fund ($1-billion)
66 projects fall under the small-communities fund, worth a total of $55.8-million. Most of these projects relate to upgrades to water-treatment facilities.