In the WP newsroom, there is a television. It is usually tuned into news or the government channel, but one morning last week, a few of us were cheering on the Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team.
As more than one pundit has suggested, perhaps that kind of behav-iour is what finance minister Jim Flaherty was hoping for when he delivered his not-too-exciting budget. Maybe no one would notice if everyone was tuned in to Sochi.
No such luck. We kept our bit of hockey-watching hooky down to about seven minutes, and like other news organizations, got back to watching government.
For example, take the lack of detail surrounding infrastructure support for municipalities. Flaherty originally said the details would come down at the end of March. Did he not have an entire year to flesh this out? Yes, he did. The Building Canada Fund, with $14 billion in funding over 10 years, was originally announced in the last budget.
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi pointed out that the end of March is already moving into the construction season, and that it was important the federal government announce the funding criteria so that “particularly smaller municipalities can make preparations.”
The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association echoed the point.
“Saskatchewan’s villages, towns and cities have been repeatedly promised support by the federal government to meet the challenges posed by aging infrastructure,” said SUMA president Debra Button in a news release.
“We are still left waiting for details.”
Apparently the government listened for once, and moved up the fund details announcement to Feb. 13. That was certainly better than March 31, but not nearly as good as several months ago.
What needs to be understood is that this is not, in the strictest sense, new money. It’s the same fund that was announced in 2007, only updated — and with less money in it. Even Infrastructure Canada’s website admits that the “new” fund stretches over 10 years instead of seven, “so there will be a reduction in the annual average funding for most provinces and territories.”
The gas tax fund remains available as well, but there is still no additional money here.
It likely won’t touch the enormous need for infrastructure support in any of the prairie provinces, where we need better roads, better bridges, better flood mitigation and much, much more.