Canada’s mayors are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to get “creative” in funding infrastructure projects when provincial governments are reluctant to spend.
The Prime Minister met Thursday with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), where mayors said the minority Parliament is a chance for Ottawa to go further than what the Liberal Party pledged during the recent election campaign.
Unlike in 2015, the Liberal Party’s 2019 platform did not include promises of major increases in infrastructure spending. That is partly due to the fact that the Liberal government had already outlined a 12-year, $180-billion plan for infrastructure spending. That plan has faced criticism for not rolling out as quickly as originally promised.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said the impact of increased federal spending on infrastructure is being partly offset by provincial governments scaling back their own spending plans on infrastructure. Many large projects – such as public-transit expansions – usually involve joint funding from three levels of government. The federal Liberals have previously expressed frustration that some provinces have been slow to identify projects.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, who chairs the FCM Big City Mayors caucus, said provincial participation in projects means more can be accomplished. But he called on Ottawa to ramp up pressure on premiers who may be reluctant to support new projects.
“The frustration of that is the federal government shouldn’t have to spend more to backfill provinces’ role, particularly where it’s their constitutional responsibility, for example, in and around housing," he said. “Premiers need to come back into leadership and be part of the solution, rather than driving division in this country.”
Mr. Iveson said the FCM’s message is getting a positive reception this week in Ottawa.
“We have had, already, very clear signals from the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the ministers we’ve connected with just in the last couple of days that they’re willing to get creative to get things done for Canadians," he said.
The federal budget in March included a surprise, one-time top-up – worth $2.2-billion – to the federal gas-tax transfer to municipalities. The FCM urged parties during the federal election to make a similar level of spending permanent, but the Liberal platform did not include such a pledge.
Instead, the Liberals’ 2019 platform promised $275-million over four years for a new national infrastructure fund.
The platform said that funding would go toward projects such as the Newfoundland-Labrador fixed transportation link.
FCM president Bill Karsten said his organization supports a plank in the Liberal platform that said provinces will be asked to identify and approve all of their long-term infrastructure priorities over the next two years. Any federal money that has not been assigned to specific projects by the end of 2021 would bypass the provinces and go directly to municipalities through a top-up to the federal gas-tax transfer.
“I think that sends a very clear signal that the status quo is not acceptable,” he said.
Mr. Karsten, Mr. Iveson, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and other FCM leaders later met with the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
During brief public comments at the start of the meeting, Mr. Trudeau said municipal priorities “informed our approach to governing” and promised that would continue.
“However many years this Parliament gives us, you know that every step of the way, we will be working hand in hand with all of you,” he said.