North

Feds announce plans to postpone $450M in Northern and rural infrastructure funding in 2018 budget

In the 2018 budget, the federal government said it pushed back $450 million in spending to 'reflect when the government expects to receive claims from recipients.'

$450M in spending slated for next five years pushed back until after next federal election

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leave the prime minister's office to table the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 27. The new budget postpones $1.8 billion in rural and Northern infrastructure funding. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Four hundred and fifty million dollars in infrastructure funding for Northern and rural communities promised last year has been postponed.

In its 2017 budget, the federal government stated it would spend $2 billion over 11 years on infrastructure in Northern and rural communities. In the first five years, the government said it would spend $650 million, with the remaining $1.35 billion to be spent in the remaining six years.

However, in the final pages of the 2018 federal budget announced Tuesday, the federal government adjusted how it plans to roll that money out.

Instead of spending $650 million over the next five years, the federal government now says it will spend $200 million. The remaining $450 million has been pushed back, leaving $1.8 billion now projected to be spent between 2022 and 2028, well after the next federal election.

Money intended for roads, connectivity

According to the 2017 budget, the money was meant to improve road access, expand internet connectivity and help remote communities reduce their reliance on diesel power. In the 2018 budget, the federal government said it pushed the spending back to "reflect when the government expects to receive claims from recipients."

A spokesperson for Amarjeet Sohi, the federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, told CBC the money is still available, but the federal government doesn't reimburse local governments for infrastructure projects until the work is completed and claims are submitted to the department.

"Claims are coming in later than expected," Minister Sohi's press-secretary, Brook Simpson told the CBC.

Simpson says that despite the delay, Ottawa is still committed to improving infrastructure in the North. He said, since coming into office in November 2015, the Liberal government has approved 60 infrastructure projects in Yukon, 69 in the N.W.T. and 18 in Nunavut.

Louis Thériault, Conference Board of Canada vice-president of industry strategy and public policy, said the adjustment is disappointing. (Conference Board of Canada)

But Louis Thériault, vice president of industry and public policy at the Conference Board of Canada, said more needs to be done.

"The infrastructure gap in the North is something that is a major problem," he told CBC.

"When we talk about skills and education programs, well you need to be able to access them. It has an impact on resource development. It has an impact on a number of other dimensions around local services that aren't up to par."

'Robbing Peter to pay Paul'

In a press release issued Friday morning, the Association of Manitoba Chiefs expressed their frustration with the decision, noting that they still have four First Nations that rely on diesel power.

"Recently, the station at Tadoule Lake ran out," said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. "This puts our First Nations citizens lives at risk, especially in the winter months."

The release notes that the $450 million push-back severely offsets the $600 million announced by the federal government to support housing on reserves across Canada.

"This is not helping our people," said Dumas. "It's a robbing Peter to pay Paul scenario."

When asked about the pushback of infrastructure funds, N.W.T. Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod said the territory has many applications in for federal infrastructure money.

N.W.T. Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod said the territorial government has a number of applications in for federal infrastructure funding. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

"We have applications in for a lot of the money that was announced in the couple of previous budgets so we're just waiting to get some word back on them," he told CBC.

"You always want them to roll out the money a lot quicker. I'm not sure what kind of details they were working on."

According to the 2018 budget, the federal government has promised to spend $17 million of the remaining $200 million on projects over the next year and a half. The budget did not include details of where that money would be spent.

With files from Garrett Hinchey

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