National Post

Infrastruc­ture money stalled

- Naomi Powell

Ottawa has delayed billions in spending intended to repair Canada’s crumbling roads and water systems as officials struggle to get the money out the door.

More than $ 2.67 billion of projected infrastruc­ture spending will not occur this year, nor will the projected $2.1 billion be spent next year, according to federal budget docu- ments released Tuesday.

“The challenge is cash flow,” Liberal Infrastruc­ture Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in an interview.

“No project is being delayed at all and no project is being declined at all.”

Federal dollars are only spent once proponents submit receipts for reimbursem­ent, a step that often doesn’t take place until after the project is complete, he said.

As a result, there are often lags between when constructi­on takes place and when the money is paid out of federal coffers.

“We don’t control the constructi­on timeline and we don’t control when we get the invoices and we don’t control when the project is completed,” he said.

So far, more than 4,100 projects have been approved with the combined federal contributi­on estimated at $ 13.6 billion, according to Infrastruc­ture Canada. Of that money, about $430 million has been paid out.

The federal government isn’t the first government to push spending on infrastruc­ture forward, given the range of players and levels of government involved in funding and constructi­ng large- scale projects, said Azfar Ali Khan, an expert in public sector expenditur­e at the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy, an Ottawabase­d think tank.

“To me, this kind of thing is becoming systemic,” he said. “But the plan to invest in infrastruc­ture was one of the key planks of the Liberal’s campaign. There was going to be spending on public transit to cut commute times, spending on infrastruc­ture to help communitie­s, public housing, a lot of things.

“I don’ t know why we wouldn’t also review how we pay for infrastruc­ture and how we can get money out the door more efficientl­y.”

In all, Ottawa has committed more than $ 180 billion over 12 years to regenerati­ng Canadian infrastruc­ture.

That money could be spent faster and with better results if the government would commit to a clear vision and framework, one that would engage private sector players, said James McKellar, professor of real estate and infrastruc­ture at York University.

“Projects will move ahead much faster if you are able to draw in private collaborat­ors with a clear set of ideas,” he said. “I haven’t seen that from this government.

Given the number of Canadian pension funds interested in investing in infrastruc­ture assets, the Canada Infrastruc­ture Bank — set up to draw private sector investment to help build infrastruc­ture — isn’t necessary, he added. The bank recently appointed its i naugural board of directors but has yet to begin operations.

“It’s not about money,” McKellar said. “These pension funds don’t need money. It’s about ideas. We have to expand our thinking beyond promises of big spending.”

 ?? JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? “The challenge is cash flow,” federal Infrastruc­ture Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in an interview.
JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS “The challenge is cash flow,” federal Infrastruc­ture Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in an interview.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada