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Budget watchdog targets slow infrastructure spending

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, makes an announcement with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne regarding new funding for transit in Barrie, Ont., on Tuesday, August 23, 2016.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, makes an announcement with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne regarding new funding for transit in Barrie, Ont., on Tuesday, August 23, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

OTTAWA – A new report from Parliament’s budget watchdog says the federal government is well behind not only on spending infrastructure money, but also on identifying projects on which to spend it.

The report released Thursday morning from the parliamentary budget office says that of the $13.6 billion in infrastructure money slated to be spent between 2016 and 2018, departments have only identified $4.6-billion worth of projects.

The report says departments have committed to spending all the allocated money by next year, but the data show “there remains a significant gap” to meeting that target.

It means there is a serious risk of the government not realizing its economic growth projections, which would have an impact on federal finances.

“Budget 2016 projected that the phase 1 infrastructure spending would raise gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.2 per cent in 2016-17 and by 0.4 per cent in 2017-18,” the report’s authors note.

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“The Government is at risk of not realizing this projection.”

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The report also takes the government to task for its transparency on spending, saying the Liberals have not provided any performance measurement framework to make sure the money is meeting its intended goals.

The PBO also mentions that it has been unable to match up current projects with the money the government says is being spent.

“PBO has made considerable effort to link the announced budget measures to the underlying infrastructure projects,” the report notes.

“But there is still a gap between what has been announced and the value of the projects currently identified by
departments.”

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The report comes just as the government and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities are set to unveil details of a $50-million fund unveiled in the 2016 budget designed to help cities better plan infrastructure work.

The Liberals hope the money will help cities better plan for infrastructure work in the future.

– With files from Global News