Harper touts infrastructure record, leaves critic unimpressed

Federal funds to help twin Sask. highway are part of government’s focus on infrastructure, prime minister tells SARM delegates

Prime minister Stephen Harper appeared to be in election mode when he addressed delegates attending the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities’ annual meeting.

It appears infrastructure spending might be one of the battlefronts of what is anticipated to be a fall election.

“We have undertaken the longest, largest national infrastructure investment in this country by far in the history of Canada,” he said.

Earlier that day, Harper announced a maximum of $32 million in federal funding for the twinning of 26.5 kilometres of Highway 7 between Saskatoon and Delisle.

He said infrastructure spending is a high priority for his government. He showed delegates a chart detailing how spending on projects like highways and bridges has increased exponentially since the Conservative party came to power in 2006.

“The fact of the matter is until shortly before we came to office, the federal government had been for very many years making little or no investment in infrastructure at the provincial and municipal level,” said Harper.

He said his government is spending three times as much on infrastructure as the Liberals did.

Matthew Kellway, infrastructure and communities critic for the New Democratic Party, isn’t impressed.

“When they compare to the previous government, the bar is a very low one to get over,” he said.

“The late 1990s saw the cannibalization of infrastructure in Canada by a Liberal government.”

Harper said his government has made it easier for municipalities to plan expenditures by launching the Building Canada Plan in 2007-08, which distributed $33 billion over the next seven years.

The New Building Canada Plan launched in 2013-14 will spend a further $53 billion on provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure over the next 10 years, which is in addition to $25 billion that will be spent on federal infrastructure.

However, Kellway said the money isn’t moving out of the fund to where it belongs.

“What I hear consistently from both municipalities and provinces is that the money simply is not flowing,” he said.

“The number for this year for money coming out of the fund is about $140 million, which is a drop in an ocean when one considers the kind of investment in infrastructure that is required to make the economy of this country function as it should.”

Kellway said he would rather see a more predictable and reliable funding model, such as the Gas Tax Fund proposed by former NDP leader Jack Layton.

Harper said his government implemented the Gas Tax Fund, extended it, doubled it and then indexed it.

It has been used to partially fund the old and new Building Canada plans.

As well, he said money is flowing out of the Building Canada plans: $1.1 billion for infrastructure projects in Saskatchewan since 2006.

sean.pratt@producer.com

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