Infrastructure tops Sask. wish list

Rural municipalities in Saskatchewan are hoping that a majority Liberal government in Ottawa will spend more money to rebuild the country’s aging rural infrastructure.

Ray Orb, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, said his organization is eager to see how a Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau carries through on a promise to spend billions of extra dollars expanding the country’s infrastructure.

“I can tell you right away that we’re pretty keen on that,” said Orb, who also chairs the rural forum at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

“We’re always looking for more money for rural infrastructure … so we’ll have to wait and see how they follow through on that.”

Trudeau said during the recent election campaign that a Liberal government would run deficit budgets for three straight years and double spending on infrastructure in an effort to stimulate economic growth.

What aging infrastructure is most in need of attention?

The Liberal plan projected deficit budgets in the neighbourhood of $10 billion per year for the first three years, followed by a balanced budget in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The Liberal promise to double spending on infrastructure projects was at the heart of the party’s strategy to create jobs and kick start the sluggish national economic.

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During a late August campaign stop in Oakville, Ont., Trudeau said the Liberals would dedicate $125 billion toward new infrastructure spending over the next decade.

Liberal infrastructure investments would focus on public transit, social infrastructure such as affordable housing and seniors centres and green projects, including clean energy infrastructure, he said.

Some observers have suggested that the Liberals’ focus on building clean energy infrastructure could provide the political impetus needed to kick start major pipeline projects, including Keystone XL.

Orb said he is optimistic that Canada’s rural municipalities will be in line for an increased share of Canada’s expanded infrastructure budget.

Municipal leaders are hoping to meet with members of the Trudeau cabinet early in the new year to discuss infrastructure funding.

“They did say that they’d be prepared to pass deficit budgets in order to build the infrastructure,” Orb said.

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“Our view is that might be OK, as long as they’re spending on the right things — things that help all of Canada — including rural.”

Orb said rural municipalities in the West have been struggling to secure federal infrastructure funding through the Building Canada program.

Building Canada was one of the main sources of federal funding for municipal infrastructure projects.

In many cases, eligibility criteria favoured larger urban infrastructure projects.

“From the rural perspective, it just didn’t work out very good be-cause when you’re competing against big urban projects, it’s very hard to win out. Under that program, rural infrastructure projects just didn’t rate high enough.”

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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