By Bob Bruton
It always comes back to roads, pipes and buildings.
Infrastructure, in other words.
And when Barrie-Innisfil MP John Brassard addresses city councillors Monday night with an update on federal matters, infrastructure will be on the agenda.
Canada’s new Liberal government has promised to dramatically increase federal infrastructure investment, and municipalities like Barrie will be lining up for their share.
“The (Liberal) federal government ran on a platform of an ambitious infrastructure plan that will see billions more dollars invested than the previous (Conservative) government had committed to,” Brassard said. “We have yet to see the details on the plan or an indication of how it will be funded.”
The Liberal platform said that each year during the next decade, the government would steadily increase federal infrastructure investment. At full implementation, this would represent an annual additional investment of $9.5 billion per year – almost doubling federal infrastructure investment to nearly $125 billion – from $65 billion – over 10 years, the largest new investment in infrastructure in Canadian history.
Brassard notes that historically, funding for these projects has been one-third from each of the federal, provincial and municipal government levels.
“Canada’s new infrastructure (and communities) minister (Amarjeet Sohi) has indicated in the media projects that are shovel ready and meet national objectives will get some of the billions in new federal cash,” Brassard said. “He has also said that those objectives should grow the economy, create jobs and make the country more sustainable.
“As a significant part of Canada’s economy and an area that is a growing contributor to that economy, central Ontario certainly would qualify for funding because it meets the national objective indicated by the minister.”
Brassard said he’s spoken with Sohi and has asked for a follow-up to get more details about infrastructure funding, and expects that to happen shortly after Parliament resumes later this month.
Coun. Michael Prowse, chairman of the city finance committee, says Barrie is behind approximately $50 million annually in its capital plans – much of which is infrastructure.
This year’s property tax increase will almost certainly include 1% for a strategic capital levy, for infrastructure, just as the budget did last year.
But Barrie’s fiscal realities cannot ignore the political ones. While Canada was electing a Liberal majority government last fall, this city’s two ridings elected Conservatives. Brassard and Alex Nuttall for Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte are both, figuratively speaking, on the outside looking in on a Liberal government.
“Look, I’m not naive. I understand the situation of central Ontario being predominately Conservative with a Liberal government,” Brassard said. “I have said that I will reach across the aisle of the House of Commons with a handshake rather than point a finger across it, and I have already started to do that.
“That’s not to say that I will agree with everything the Liberal government does but on this we should agree. Central Ontario is an important and growing part of this country’s economy,” he said. “That was recognized by the previous (Conservative) government in not just infrastructure investments, but investments in economic development that helped create thousands of jobs regionally in our area. This has to continue if central Ontario is to remain a bright spot in the Canadian economy.”
Brassard said Monday’s update to city councillors is the first of a regular communication plan he wants to have with both Barrie and Innisfil councils, a chance to have some open, public dialogue about what’s happening in Ottawa and locally.
He’s already met with Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman and Innisfil Mayor Gord Wauchope several times, and was at Innisfil council in November.
Brassard said he wants to work with both councils to ensure the federal government understands how important this area’s economy is to the province, and the nation.
The Liberals have said their government will develop bilateral agreements with the provinces and territories, similar to those created for the gas tax transfer to cities and communities, for their infrastructure plan.
Ottawa will not only significantly increase the scale of federal infrastructure investment, it will provide provinces, territories, and municipalities with an unprecedented level of long-term predictability in funding as well.
There will be an immediate down-payment on this plan to kick start job creation and economic growth. For each of the next two fiscal years, a Liberal government has said it will double current federal infrastructure investment to $10 billion per year from $5 billion.
The three infrastructure funding areas have been identified as public transit, social and green services.
It will be called the New Building Canada Fund.
Brassard is scheduled to speak to Barrie councillors early in Monday’s meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Council Chamber at Barrie City Hall.