Data show Conservatives using infrastructure fund as campaign fodder

About 92 per cent of the $10B provincial-territorial stream of the New Building Canada Fund remains unspent

OTTAWA — The federal government’s marquee, multibillion-dollar infrastructure fund has been handing out money at a slow pace, newly released figures show, prompting complaints that the government is playing politics with the cash.

About 92 per cent of the $10-billion provincial-territorial stream of the New Building Canada Fund remains unspent, with about $782 million allocated through the start of this fiscal year, according to figures tabled in Parliament last month.

Infrastructure Canada, the department responsible for overseeing the cash, says that it may take some time to get the money out the door, especially given that the commitment is for a 10-year period.

Department spokeswoman Fatima Baalbaki said in an email that officials are reviewing “several applications” and expect more to flow in.

“Proponents set the pace of their infrastructure projects and many large-scale projects take many years to complete,” Baalbaki said.

“Federal funding to projects flows once work is underway and eligible project costs are submitted by the project proponent.”

The figures, provided in response to a written question from Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, show that 52 projects were granted funding during the 2014-15 fiscal year, and through April of this year, the first month of the 2015-16 fiscal year. Of those, six projects were under construction in four provinces, with two of those in Prince Edward Island.

The provincial-territorial component of the fund has been open for business for just over a year. Combined with a national infrastructure component, it makes the New Building Canada Fund worth $14 billion to qualifying municipalities over the coming decade.

The national component, which covers projects that would have broad impact, has so far doled out cash to two projects: about $25 million to expand the airport in Fort McMurray, Alta., and $43 million for upgrades at the Port of Montreal.

That leaves nearly 98 per cent of the $4-billion stream unspent.

Combined, there remains about 94 per cent of funds unspent as the program heads into its second year and into an election campaign where funding pledges could be used to sway voters in key ridings.

“Even though we’re already in year two, the fact that 94 per cent hasn’t been touched is a deliberate design decision by the government so that they have something to talk about in terms of infrastructure,” Goodale said in an interview.

A spokeswoman for Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel said the provinces decide which projects should get federal funding.

Michele-Jamali Paquette said in an email the government “has no lessons to take from the Liberal party” on infrastructure spending, claiming the Tories had spent more on average per year than the Liberals did while in power.

Conservative MPs have been fanning across the country in recent weeks to tout investments under the massive spending program, mainly in Tory ridings.

Of the more than $283.3 million handed out by Conservative MPs since the start of the fiscal year, about $144.3 million has gone to Conservative ridings, based on an analysis of government funding announcements by The Canadian Press.

This week alone, the government has made 16 infrastructure spending announcements worth almost $57.6 million, with all but one of those projects receiving cash through the small communities fund, a $1-billion funding stream tucked into the provincial-territorial component.

All but nine of the 58 funding announcements made since April 7 have targeted ridings where Conservatives are either running for re-election or trying to hold a seat left vacant by a retirement, the analysis shows.

They include five funding announcements worth almost $1.47 million for the Nova Scotia riding of West Nova that retiring Conservative Greg Kerr has held since 2008 after taking it from the Liberals.

Four announcements have been in the Nova Scotia riding of Kings-Hants, which Liberal Scott Brison is hoping to hold in the October vote. A $62-million investment in a multi-year effort to clean up the Ottawa River is paying for tunnels that cross two ridings: Ottawa Centre, held by NDP MP Paul Dewar, and Liberal MP Mauril Belanger’s riding of Ottawa-Vanier.

In Vancouver, a $34-million pledge for work on the Highway 1 through the Lower Lynn corridor is in Conservative MP Andrew Saxton’s riding of North Vancouver, but it links to Vancouver East, which is up for grabs with the retirement of New Democrat Libby Davies.


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