January 15, 2016 2:00 pm
Updated: January 15, 2016 2:04 pm

Cities clamour for speedier federal infrastructure cash

Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi and Ottawa Mayor Jiim Watson (left) tour the site of a future light rail transit station in Ottawa, Wednesday January 13, 2016.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press

If the federal government decides to accelerate its distribution of infrastructure dollars, cities are ready to roll.

“There is just a ton of opportunity that we would welcome support from the federal government – next week, even – to enable these projects to move forward,” said Sadhu Johnston, acting city manager for Vancouver.

The city has “shovel-ready” projects from seniors’ centres to child care facilities, affordable housing and transportation infrastructure, he said.

“Many of them are literally ready to go now.”

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The Canadian Press reported earlier this week that the Liberal government is considering accelerating its rollout of promised infrastructure cash.

The party’s election promise was $5 billion in new infrastructure investments in the first two years of its mandate, and $3.45 billion over the next two years.

According to the report, the government was looking into speeding up that schedule in response to economic conditions, though there were no details.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau hasn’t committed publicly to speeding up new spending. But the government definitely wants to accelerate existing funding programs – such as the previous Conservative government’s New Building Canada Fund “to stimulate the economy,” said Kate Monfette, director of communications for Amarjeet Sohi, minister of infrastructure and communities.

She expects the timeframe for new spending promised by the Liberals will come around the same time as the federal budget – likely this spring.

But if projects meet the criteria for the existing New Building Canada Fund, she said, approval can take as little as four to six weeks.

WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Toronto mayor John Tory discuss infrastructure on Jan. 13, 2016

Vancouver owns several pieces of land earmarked for new social housing, said Johnston. With federal funding they could break ground on many of them within the year. Federal funding commitments could also speed up progress on larger projects such as rapid transit along the Broadway corridor, he said.

Some “shovel-ready” projects in Toronto include Toronto Community Housing’s billion-dollar capital repair backlog, transit station upgrades, new buses and flood protection for the lower Don lands, says Mayor John Tory’s spokesperson Keerthana Kamalavasan.

Raymond Louie, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and acting mayor of Vancouver said he’s heard the government wants to act quickly, and he’s had several meetings with ministers so far.

“They intend to move on the promises that they made during the election, and so far what we’re seeing is they’re doing just that.”

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