Canada’s cities are confused about how to apply for money under the federal Building Canada Plan which pays for municipal infrastructure construction, according to the head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Brock Carlton says the new process, which asks the provinces to set priorities for municipal spending, has left FCM members unsure where to begin.

“The provinces are involved and are decision makers in terms of priorities their own jurisdictions,” Carlton said in an interview with CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange.

“What is not clear to us is how do our priorities play at the decision-making level at the provincial level and in addition there is no clear direction from the federal government on how the provinces should factor in the municipal priorities in the decisions that are made at that level.”

Construction season is short

Brock Carlton

Brock Carlton, CEO of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, says cities are confused over the process of applying for federal infrastructure money. (CBC)

Carlton said 30 per cent of infrastructure at the municipal level is in poor repair and cities were heartened to hear that Ottawa would extend its program of funding infrastructure spending, as the program was set to expire this year. Ottawa has promised $53 million over 10 years (including the gas tax funding).

But construction season has opened and cities don’t know yet whether they’ll get their money, Carlton said.

“We have gone from the big announcements to the actual execution and in the leading up to the execution the conversation stopped between us and the government and so now we have a program that has been released out to the provinces but it’s not clear at all how our members can access that money,” he said.

But Peter Braid, parliamentary secretary to the federal minister of infrastructure,  says all the information has been available since the end of March.

Federal government says process is clear

“I’m not sure I understand the concern from the FCM. We’ve been working with them closely over the last few months. All of the information about the new Building Canada plan is available on the Infrastructure Canada website,” he said.

 Braid said applications are already coming in.

“Different province are at different stages of readiness. One of the positive aspects of the Building Canada plan is that it gives municipalities and the provinces the power to identify their infrastructure priorities,” he said.

But that’s why municipalities are confused, Carlton said. The province needs to deem every project a priority and then it has to be approved by the federal government, but the cities are not clear on the criteria or process for those decisions.

While the process for the first Building Canada fund was negotiated over a six-month period between the provinces and Ottawa, in this case, provinces got terms of the deal March 28 and the program was launched that same afternoon.

Carlton said municipalities see infrastructure as critical to job and economic development in their regions.

“It’s important to underline that investments in infrastructure are about employment creation -- $1 billion in spending creates 11,000 jobs,” he said.