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Politics Justin Trudeau’s letter suggests frustration over infrastructure delays

Justin Trudeau’s new mandate letters to cabinet suggest the Prime Minister is not happy with the slow rollout of billions in promised federal infrastructure cash.

The Prime Minister’s Office released new mandate letters on Tuesday that were provided to the 10 ministers who received new assignments as a result of last month’s cabinet shuffle.

The tone of Mr. Trudeau’s letter to new Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne hints at frustration with the fact that infrastructure money is not being spent as planned. Mr. Champagne moved from the international trade file to replace Amarjeet Sohi, who is now the Minister for Natural Resources.

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The letter states that spending should be accounted for “as construction work takes place,” a statement that contradicts Mr. Sohi’s past explanations that delays are simply a result of accounting factors because Ottawa receives bills for construction after projects have been completed by provinces and municipalities.

“Funding should not lapse, and it should only be re-profiled to ensure funding committed to projects continues to be available until completion,” Mr. Trudeau states in the letter. It also urges Mr. Champagne “to conclude any outstanding negotiations with provinces that have yet to sign integrated bilateral agreements” on infrastructure. Mr. Sohi had said deals with all provinces would be in place by March, 2018, “at the latest.” However, the deadline was missed for eight provinces; Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador have yet to sign agreements with Ottawa.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Fréchette has released several reports detailing the lag in promised infrastructure spending. The Senate’s National Finance committee has also expressed concern with delays and transparency regarding the infrastructure plan.

The Liberal government is promising to spend more than $180-billion on infrastructure over 12 years, including new and previously planned spending.

The 2018 federal budget stated that $3.6-billion in infrastructure spending that had been scheduled to go out the door by April 1, 2018, would instead be spent in future years.

Conservative MP and infrastructure critic Michael Chong said the letter is “an admission of failure” from the government regarding a core campaign promise.

“They’re clearly reeling from the PBO’s criticism that they are unable to provide accurate and timely information to Parliamentarians,” Mr. Chong said. “All of the major points in the mandate letter address the criticisms that we have had, that the PBO have had and that other stakeholders have had over the government’s performance in this portfolio.”

Kate Monfette, a spokeswoman for Mr. Champagne, said the letters support the department’s direction.

“The updated mandate letters published today are consistent with the work we have been doing in the past months,” she said in an e-mail. “The new minister has been tasked with exploring possible changes that would allow for a more accurate reflection of project activity on the ground and the federal investments which spurred it.”

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