2-year plan to focus on repairs to crumbling infrastructure, minister says

A new, two-year plan to repair Canada's crumbling infrastructure will lay the groundwork for the federal government's 10-year infrastructure plan, which it hopes will stimulate a flagging economy.

Public transit, green and social infrastructure will be focus of big spending campaign promise

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi speaks with reporters after giving a lunch-hour speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Thursday. (CBC News)

A new, two-year effort to repair Canada's crumbling infrastructure will lay the groundwork for the federal government's 10-year infrastructure plan, which it hopes will stimulate a flagging economy.

This first phase, for which $10 billion has been earmarked, was announced in Toronto Thursday by Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi.

The two-year plan will focus on dealing with what Sohi called a "deferred maintenance backlog" across the infrastructure spectrum throughout the country. However, that will not mean the government does not fund new projects over that time, he told reporters after his speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

This first phase will also include enhancing municipal planning, asset management and data collection, so planners can make smarter, more evidence-based decisions as they embark on long-term infrastructure projects, Sohi said.

"It's not enough to be shovel-ready," Sohi said during his speech. "Projects need to be shovel-worthy, as well."

Public transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure like community housing are the federal government's three key priorities for its infrastructure plan, Sohi said.

Funding could flow by summer

Funds will only start flowing to municipalities after the government passes its first budget, he said. But the goal is to start getting money out the door by the summer construction season.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said Thursday he is "encouraged" by Sohi's approach to infrastructure. 

"In his speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade today, and in our private meetings since he took office in October, Minister Sohi has made it clear that Toronto deserves direct funding for its infrastructure priorities and that he believes in the importance of local decision making," Tory said in a written statement.

"As he said today, investing in infrastructure is about taking care of people. Investing in Toronto's priorities, including housing, transit and port lands flood protection, will have an immediately positive impact on our city and our country."

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities hailed the government's "collaborative" approach to infrastructure development.

"Repairing and upgrading affordable housing, public transit, water systems, and other municipal infrastructure is crucial to our quality of life and to the Canadian economy," said president Raymond Louie.

But federal Conservative infrastructure critic Dianne Watts said investing in communities must be done "responsibly and with a clear-cut plan."

"Any plan to invest and create growth cannot be achieved without responsible deficit management," Watts said in a news release.

"So far I haven't seen a plan from the Liberal government that shows how big their deficit is going to be, what benchmarks they will use to measure if these investments are actually contributing to growing the economy, and what programs will be cut or what taxes will be raised in order to pay for it all."

'We need to act'

Sohi has been travelling the country, meeting with local stakeholders as he begins to hammer out the details of the federal government's 10-year, $60 billion infrastructure pledge the Liberals made during last year's election campaign.

He offered few specifics on Thursday. However, he did say that the Liberal government will develop a new framework for how it handles infrastructure projects, including giving more autonomy to municipalities to identify their infrastructure priorities, he said.

The government will also make the process more transparent, ensure that project criteria are easier to understand, and speed up approvals for projects.

"We all know the economic challenges we are facing today," Sohi said in his speech.

"But investing in infrastructure in a strategic way can stimulate the economy and help build sustainable and inclusive communities. We need to act, and we need to act now."

Later Thursday, the provincial government identified the infrastructure projects it considers of "key importance" to Ontario, including upgrades and new track construction along GO Transit corridors Lakeshore West and Lakeshore East, Kitchener and Barrie, as well as signal upgrades to the Union Station rail corridor. These transportation projects carry a pricetag of just over $3.9 billion.

The Scarborough subway extension and Ring of Fire development projects are also top priorities. These projects carry a  price tag of $5.4 billion, according to a spokesperson for Premier Kathleen Wynne.

With files from The Canadian Press


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