Lib­eral cau­cus fans out to tout bil­lions spent on in­fra­struc­ture projects

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY -

Lit­tle more than a year be­fore the next fed­eral elec­tion, Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als are hop­ing to re­mind Cana­di­ans about the ben­e­fits de­rived from one of their sig­na­ture prom­ises from the last elec­tion: in­vest­ing bil­lions in in­fra­struc­ture.

For the past week, Lib­eral MPs across the coun­try have been pop­ping up at events in their rid­ings aimed at show­cas­ing projects funded un­der the first phase of the Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s promised $180-bil­lion in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture over 12 years.

Trudeau turned up at one project — con­struc­tion of a garage to house ad­di­tional train cars for Mon­treal’s ex­pand­ing Metro, to which the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has pledged $87.6 mil­lion.

In­fra­struc­ture Min­is­ter François-Philippe Cham­pagne, ap­pointed to the port­fo­lio last month, em­barked on a cross-coun­try tour of fed­er­ally funded projects.

And the gov­ern­ment pumped out news re­leases by the dozens, herald­ing the ben­e­fits of myr­iad projects, large and small, from pub­lic tran­sit and bridges to re­cre­ation cen­tres and scenic look­outs.

“In­vest­ing in mod­ern, ef­fi­cient pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture is key to pro­mot­ing eco­nomic growth, strength­en­ing the mid­dle class and de­vel­op­ing healthy, sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties,” pro­claimed one re­lease.

No project was too small to cel­e­brate. A re­lease an­nounc­ing $150,000 from the feds to help put a new roof over an ice rink in Saint-Pierre-de-la-Rivière-duSud, Que., stressed “the im­por­tance of hav­ing good recre­ational in­fra­struc­ture that en­cour­ages peo­ple to adopt healthy life­styles and helps make com­mu­ni­ties vi­brant, in­clu­sive places to live.”

Other re­leases touted the virtues of in­vest­ing in tourism in­fra­struc­ture, which “plays a key role in de­vel­op­ing dy­namic, pros­per­ous com­mu­ni­ties” and in cul­tural fa­cil­i­ties, which sim­i­larly “help build dy­namic and con­nected com­mu­ni­ties” that “al­low lo­cal economies to grow.”

Cham­pagne said the full court press on in­fra­struc­ture was de­signed to get MPs en­gaged with their lo­cal projects and lis­ten to feed­back from their con­stituents on what more needs to be done.

But he ac­knowl­edged it’s also de­signed to draw at­ten­tion to the ef­fect on Cana­di­ans’ lives of projects that many likely don’t re­al­ize were kick-started by fed­eral in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing and cost-shared with pro­vin­cial and/or mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments.

Cham­pagne boasts that more than 4,000 projects have been ap­proved for fund­ing since Trudeau’s gov­ern­ment took of­fice in 2015. He’s only vis­ited a hand­ful of them so far but has al­ready seen “the im­pact on the ground of what we’ve been do­ing since Bud­get 2016.”

How­ever, the gov­ern­ment has faced crit­i­cism that it’s been slow to ac­tu­ally roll out the money. The par­lia­men­tary bud­get of­fi­cer re­ported last March that the gov­ern­ment had ap­proved projects worth only half the $14.4 bil­lion ear­marked for the first phase of the in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram.

Cham­pagne’s of­fice now says 100 per cent of the ear­marked funds have been com­mit­ted for more than 4,200 projects, although 70 per cent of project pro­po­nents have not yet claimed their share of fed­eral funds.

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