Liberal caucus fans out to tout billions spent on infrastructure projects
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.