Atlantic mayors say turmoil surrounds federal infrastructure money

Nigel
Nigel Armstrong
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Mayor Mike Savage, left, of Halifax Regional Municipality meets host Mayor Clifford Lee at the first day of the semi-annual Atlantic Mayor’s Congress. The two-day congress is being held in Charlottetown, P.E.I. through until Friday, April 25.

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Delay and turmoil is affecting infrastructure improvements across Atlantic Canada, say the region's mayors. 

Mayors from throughout Atlantic Canada are meeting for the semi-annual Atlantic Mayors' Congress in Charlottetown this week. Economic development officers from across the region are also attending.

Taking up most of the opening day's business was discussion about The New Building Canada Plan announced Feb. 13 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It provides $33 billion over the next 10 years through a variety of sub-programs for infrastructure improvement.

"It is evident that municipalities require a clear framework and direction to apply the New Building Canada Fund from the federal and provincial governments before we can move forward,” said Mayor Clifford Lee of Charlottetown. “We currently do not have specifics of the plan we require to move forward.  The holdup, unfortunately, is disruptive to local economies.”

As an example, there is confusion about a financial strategy known as stacking, where municipalities use the separate federal funding program called the Gas Tax Fund as their one-third funding share for projects that also seek Building Canada funding.

"There may be an issue that that, depending on who you listen to," said Lee.

Then there is a lack of clarity on what share of the funding program will go to municipalities, said Lee. Provincial governments, non-profit groups and even some private businesses can obtain funding from Building Canada.

"There are flaws in the design of this program," said Lee.

Atlantic Mayors object that the new rules prevents applications to fund sport, recreation, culture, tourism and even local roads infrastructure.

Charlottetown now looks to the Gas Tax Fund to help fund local road repairs but other municipalities in the region don't have that opportunity, said Lee.

Then there is a problem of consultation about all these rules, said Lee.

"The (Federation of Canadian Municipalities) does not believe that real consultations have taken place between the government of Canada and the FCM," said Lee.

There are new federal regulations about wastewater management that will cost municipalities billions of dollars to implement, but with so many hands in the pot, there is no trust that Building Canada funds will come close to helping fund those new requirements.

Again in the case of Charlottetown the issue is not so urgent, said Lee. It's current sewage and storm water system has, and with current upgrades will continue to meet federal regulations but that's not the case for many other municipalities in the region.

At the end of the day the congress passed a resolution calling for collaboration with the Canadian Federation of Municipalities to support and encourage negotiations with the federal and provincial governments on the Building Canada Fund.

The resolution also called for a separate funding program to cover the costs of meeting the new wastewater regulations.

Organizations: Building Canada, Canada Fund, Congress in Charlottetown Gas Tax Fund Canadian Municipalities Canadian Federation of Municipalities

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Charlottetown

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