Time for Action on Infrastructure

by Gord Hume

With the completion of the FCM conference in Ottawa, and the arrival of the mid-point anniversary of the Trudeau government just weeks away, there are quiet rumblings from some municipal officials about getting on with the massive infrastructure investments promised by the Prime Minister. They are needed so desperately by towns and cities across Canada.

With the promise of $187 billion over the next twelve years from the federal government, it will help to provide badly-needed investments in our crumbling municipal infrastructure as well as generate new investments required for the next-generation economy. Great. But let's move them along. Soon would be good. Now would be better.

The concept of the Canada Infrastructure Bank is interesting. However, there are concerns about the independence of the board (why would major projects have to be approved by Cabinet?), how the Bank's activities would differ substantially from other Public-Private Partnerships for large infrastructure projects, and the transparency of the Bank's process.

Regardless, Canada's municipal leaders are smart enough to figure out ways to work with the Bank when it makes sense for their community. Generating more private sector investments is unquestionably a solid idea. But it would seem preferable to have an independent board making independent decisions in a very timely fashion. For too long Canadian municipalities have suffered as federal government footprints stomped all over local decision-making on local projects.

What was particularly encouraging in the Prime Minister's speech in Ottawa was the commitment to have the federal government pay 40% of the cost of major infrastructure projects. The old 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 formula hasn't worked for a long time. Local governments simply don't have the financial capacity to provide that much funding for big projects.

The key now is to get the provinces and territories on side with their commitment to fund their 40% portion. A 40-40-20 partnership is much more in keeping with the reasonable funding abilities of the three orders of government.

While Mayors and Councillors have been very supportive of the federal government's announcements in the first two years of governing, the concern has always been the back-end loading of the federal financial commitment on infrastructure. It will take three terms in office to complete the entire promise of infrastructure funding. What municipalities cannot handle is any wobbling in that promise, regardless of what party is in power. The demands for infrastructure investments are enormous and urgent.

With a majority government in Ottawa, and a firm and public commitment from the Prime Minister, it would seem fairly easy to get the legislation done and the money flowing. It hasn't happened quite that way. Some municipal officials are getting just a teensy bit concerned about the timing. After all, city halls need to do their own planning and budgeting for these major investments.

Surely it is time to get on with this. Our nation needs these infrastructure dollars spent wisely and well but also in a timely fashion.

Gord Hume


Gord Hume is recognized as one of Canada's leading voices on municipal government and is an articulate and thoughtful commentator on civic government and community issues. He is a very popular public speaker, an advisor to municipal governments, and a respected and provocative author.

Gord was elected to London City Council four times. He has had a distinguished career in Canadian business, managing radio stations and as Publisher of a newspaper. Gord received two “Broadcaster of the Year' awards. He is now President of Hume Communications Inc., a professional independent advisor to municipalities.

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