The federal budget is expected to contain long-term infrastructure funding worth $30 billion, the Globe and Mail reported Saturday.
The amount is less than what was being sought by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which has been lobbying for more than two years for something to replace the infrastructure stimulus programs expiring in 2013-14.
Inclusion in the federal budget would be significant because it represents a commitment to municipalities in tough economic times, says Mayor Frank Leonard, a former FCM director.
“It’s remarkable we’ve got support now from all political stripes for the federal government to address local government infrastructure needs. So it’s a really good sign,” Leonard said.
Current federal government transfers to municipalities include $1 billion in GST/HST rebates, $2 billion in federal gas tax transfers, and about $1.25 billion a year from the expiring Building Canada Fund.
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has said the GST/HST rebate and the gas tax transfer will continue. The FCM expects the $1.25-billion-a-year transfer will be renewed and is also expecting new transfers.
“The stimulus was to get us through the ’07-’08 financial crisis,” Leonard said. “So for the Harper government to realize there’s a need to continue it beyond that is really to their credit and to the credit of FCM for doing a really good job of making our case.”
The FCM had hoped for a 20-year plan worth about $6.6 billion annually.
According to the Globe and Mail, the FCM expects that Flaherty’s budget will include a provision for between $4.25 billion and $5 billion a year for municipalities but with a timeline of less than 20 years.
Chris Coleman, a FCM director and Victoria’s acting mayor, said the fact that municipalities had been given a seat at the table for discussions was a win. “That hasn’t happened in the past.”
The FCM has been working to position the investment in municipalities “as a core piece of any budget,” Coleman said.
Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton said the continuation of the grants for infrastructure is needed and welcome.
“I know from the AVICC [Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities] to UBCM [Union of B.C. Municipalities], infrastructure grant continuation from the federal level was a very high-level priority,” Hamilton said. “It is huge.”
Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen also welcomed the news.
“In the last five or 10 years, there has been a significant downloading by both the federal and provincial governments to municipalities,” he said. “That has increased our costs in many areas and really, in my view I think the province as well as the federal government have an obligation to continue with this infrastructure grants to reflect these downloaded costs.”
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