Feds cut infrastructure funding forecast in last year's budget by $1.5B
New West mayor says it could be “cause for concern for local governments.”
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In a move New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté says raises “a few red flags” the federal government is planning to spend $1.5 billion less over the next four years on infrastructure – including public transit – than it promised in 2017.
“Certainly, that would be a cause for concern for local governments who are looking forward to seeing investments into municipal infrastructure as soon as possible,” Coté said.
The federal budget released Tuesday shows the government plans to spend $813 million less on public transit and $544 million less on green infrastructure investments than it planned in budget 2017.
Meanwhile, it’s forecasting an increase in spending on social infrastructure, including housing, of $361 million.
Coté said Wednesday he thinks the government is likely “stretching out the timeline” not necessarily eliminating the promised funding. And from what he’s heard, he doesn’t think it will affect federal funding commitments for the second phase of Metro Vancouver’s transit plan, which includes construction of the Surrey-Newton-Guilford LRT and the Broadway extension of the Millennium Line.
In a statement Translink echoed the mayor’s comment, noting “the federal government has already pledged to fund up to 40 per cent of Phase Two of the Mayors’ 10-Year Vision.”
“We are confident a funding formula for Phase Two will be reached soon,” it said.
The reality, said Coté, is construction on many of the large capital projects in phase two won’t begin until 2019 or later so the infrastructure allocations in this year’s budget won’t affect support for that plan.
However, cities do need clarification about what the line item reductions in budget 2018 really mean, he said.
While cities across Metro Vancouver have been positive about the federal government’s plan to invest billions of dollars into city infrastructure, Coté said those investments “have to be real.”
“The proof will be in the pudding, he said, “If we are going to see the benefits and the improvements of our cities then we actually need to see the dollars start flowing.”
The federal Department of Finance did not offer clarification on the reductions by press time, however EY’s western Canada climate change and sustainability services leader, Meghan Harris-Ngae, said on green infrastructure it seems the government is “repurposing and shuffling” the funding.
Over the short-term money is being shifted away from infrastructure and into the administration of programs like the green infrastructure bank to help develop the framework, processes, and metrics for both distributing infrastructure funding and measuring the impact that funding has.
The federal government has struggled to develop metrics to show the outcome of funding from an environmental point of view, she said, noting it’s caused problems for some provincial governments who are left unsure how the federal government wants to them spend and report back on the funding.
“Although it seems highly administrative the absence of that framework would present a challenge in the federal government being able to actually report back out to the public on how that funding is being allocated for greening the economy,” she said, calling the move “needed.”
The unanswered question is how the government plans to set up a framework that going to work and whether they’ll stick to the short-term time line for returning investment to infrastructure.
Overall, Harris-Ngae said the budget shows a continued commitment to “greening the economy.”
“In reading through the entire budget I do not see at all that they’ve wavered from that commitment they’re just trying to restructure themselves in a different way,” she said, adding that she expects to see a greater focus on climate change, which will have a “significant impact on infrastructure,” moving forward.