Politics

Critical PBO report lacks information on infrastructure spending, minister says

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi says the government must provide better information to Canada's budget watchdog after a report from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer found that the government was behind in rolling out its infrastructure spending.

Report suggests that roughly half of allocated infrastructure funding has been allocated to projects

Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi says it is too soon to measure the economic impact of infrastructure investment. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi says the government must provide better information to Canada's budget watchdog after a report from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer suggested that the government was behind in rolling out its infrastructure spending.

The government has only identified projects for roughly half of the $14.4 billion allocated for phase one of its infrastructure program, according to the report released Thursday. The 2016 budget initially allocated a majority of that funding to be rolled out by mid-2018.

But the PBO did not have all the necessary information, Sohi said Monday in an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"There is an information gap from our end," Sohi told host Vassy Kapelos.

"I take responsibility for [the gap] and we will definitely strive to improve our reporting to the parliamentary budget office."

In its report, the PBO said it was unable to gather all the information it requested from 32 departments and Crown corporations involved in identifying phase one projects.

But the report also says that the projects that the PBO identified — roughly 10,000 — make up a "substantial majority" of the total the government has planned so far.

Although Sohi said a majority of the infrastructure funding outlined in the 2016 budget has already been allocated, he could not say how much.

But he said that the government will make the necessary information available soon.

"In the next couple of weeks ... we will be able to gather all the information that will better reflect the [investment] activity."

Falling short on economic boost

Phase one of the infrastructure program was intended to help create jobs and boost growth by injecting cash quickly into the economy. 

It was, in part, why the Liberals committed to deficit spending in the first two years and then doubled down by projecting a deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.

But according to the PBO, the economic gain that was forecasted in the 2016 budget has not materialized.

The government initially projected that infrastructure spending would translate to a 0.4 per cent increase in GDP by 2018.

The actual bump was only a quarter of that — 0.1 per cent — according to the PBO report.

Sohi said that the investment is having an impact on the economy, but that it will not be measurable right away.

"It is very difficult to measure the success of those investments in a short amount of time, because infrastructure investments are long term."

Even in the long run, the PBO report suggests the investment may be for naught. The report estimates that rising interest rates could wipe out any GDP growth caused by infrastructure investment by 2022.

The PBO does estimate that the infrastructure spending has had an impact on employment. According to the report, up to 11,000 jobs were created in the last year.

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