Lib­er­als may speed up in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS GOVERN­MENT

The Trudeau govern­ment is “ac­tively con­sid­er­ing” speed­ing up promised in­vest­ments in in­fra­struc­ture in a bid to stim­u­late Canada’s rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing econ­omy.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau promised dur­ing last fall’s elec­tion cam­paign to pump an ad­di­tional $60 bil­lion over 10 years into in­fra­struc­ture projects. But less than half that money — $17.4 bil­lion — was ear­marked to flow dur­ing the Lib­er­als’ first man­date.

The plat­form com­mit­ted to spend­ing an ex­tra $5 bil­lion for each of the first two years and $3.45 bil­lion in each of the next two years.

How­ever, The Cana­dian Press has learned the govern­ment is now look­ing at mov­ing up the spend­ing sched­ule, push­ing the money out faster in re­sponse to wors­en­ing eco­nomic con­di­tions.

Com­mod­ity prices have con­tin­ued to slide, the dol­lar has nose­dived and al­ready slug­gish eco­nomic growth has slowed to a crawl in the three months since Trudeau won on a plat­form fo­cused on stim­u­lat­ing the econ­omy and im­prov­ing the lot of middle-class Cana­di­ans.

Asked re­peat­edly Wed­nes­day if the govern­ment is con­sid­er­ing spend­ing more than the promised $5 bil­lion ex­tra on in­fra­struc­ture in the com­ing year, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau did not rule out the idea but said de­tails will have to await his maiden bud­get, ex­pected in mid- to late March.

“It will in­clude sig­nif­i­cant in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing, but the ex­act de­tails of the bud­get we haven’t com­pleted yet so I can’t pro­vide more in­for­ma­tion on the ex­act num­bers,” he said dur­ing a visit to a Toronto refugee cen­tre.

The de­te­ri­o­rat­ing eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion has al­ready forced the Lib­er­als to re­think their pledge to run up deficits of no more than $10 bil­lion in each of the first three years of their man­date.

Trudeau has down­graded that prom­ise to a “goal.”

While they may yet have to scale back some of their other pricey cam­paign prom­ises, Trudeau and Morneau have dou­bled down on the in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing, ar­gu­ing that the wors­en­ing eco­nomic pic­ture only re­in­forces the need to stim­u­late growth.

Dur­ing an event Wed­nes­day with Toronto Mayor John Tory, Trudeau said his govern­ment has no plans to scale back its in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing.

“The in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ments that the mayor is count­ing on are not a prob­lem — they are part of the so­lu­tion to the chal­lenges that Canada has been fac­ing,” Trudeau said.

“That’s ex­actly what we’re se­ri­ous about tack­ling.”

The Lib­eral plat­form talked about in­vest­ing in more am­bi­tious projects with long-term ben­e­fits: pub­lic tran­sit, af­ford­able hous­ing, se­niors’ fa­cil­i­ties, child care, “cli­mate re­silient” in­fra­struc­ture, flood mit­i­ga­tion and waste­water sys­tems.

Trudeau said Wed­nes­day that his govern­ment wants to make sure it’s spend­ing money “on the right things” to cre­ate jobs and spur the econ­omy in the short term, but also in the long run.

“We’re go­ing to do this right, we’re go­ing to do this re­spon­si­bly.”

In­fra­struc­ture Min­is­ter Amar­jeet Sohi said ear­lier Wed­nes­day that the govern­ment is look­ing at ex­pe­dit­ing spend­ing on projects al­ready queued to re­ceive fed­eral cash through ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture funds.

“We have bil­lions of dol­lars that we have not spent over the last two years that we can ex­pe­dite this year and next year, as well as go­ing through the bud­get process to al­lo­cate the ad­di­tional $60 bil­lion.”

Sohi has said fund­ing will flow to shovel-ready projects that cities and provinces iden­tify as pri­or­i­ties.

He said the govern­ment is ask­ing cities and provinces to fi­nal­ize the list of pri­or­ity projects so they can be quickly re­viewed and green-lighted for fund­ing. Those projects, he said, need not be new work, but re­vamp­ing ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

CP PHOTO

In­fra­struc­ture and Com­mu­ni­ties Min­is­ter Amar­jeet Sohi is seen as he tours the fu­ture site of the Trem­blay sta­tion, part of the light rail tran­sit pro­ject in Ottawa Wed­nes­day.

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