The House

$20B in infrastructure spending will get Canadians back to work, Feds say

The Liberal Infrastructure Minister says that the government will start spending money from the New Building Canada Fund, a program from the former Conservative government, right away to get Canadians back to work.
Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi speaks with reporters after giving a lunch-hour speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Thursday. (CBC News)

Canada is facing a fiscal crunch and an economy struggling to notch up meaningful growth numbers. 

Things are much worse in the resource-rich areas of the country, like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador, where low oil prices have thrown thousands of people out of work, and decimated provincial treasuries.

The Liberal government says it's prepared for the troubles that lie ahead, and it's moving forward with an ambitious plan to spend some $20 billion over the next two years on infrastructure projects across the country. 

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi spoke to Chris Hall of CBC Radio's The House to outline some details about what the government has in store to get Canadians back to work. 

Chris Hall: I want to ask you about the extra $10 billion in infrastructure spending. How quickly does this money need to roll out? 

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi: As part of the election commitment we committed to invest an additional $20 billion over the next two years. $10 billion is new money under the three envelopes: public transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure. Our goal is to get that money out into the community within the first two years.

Throughout the country there is money that has been allocated, but that hasn't been spent [from the Conservative fund]. Our goal is to get the money out in the coming construction season, and the next construction season. Every $1 billion that is invested into infrastructure creates close to 18,000 jobs.

CH: So this will have to wait for the budget then?

AS: The new money, the $10 billion, will have to wait for the budget to go through, but we do have the existing Building Canada Fund.

There's approximately $8 to $10 billion in that envelope, depending on some projects have been approved, some haven't been approved.

We're looking at investing that money in the first two years, recognizing the sluggish growth in the economy and our goal to create jobs as well as make our economy more productive and efficient.

CH: What types of projects could be approved and get the money quickly? 

AS: The one thing that I have heard over the last few months, and this really confirms my own experience as a city councilor, that we need definitely need to build new infrastructure but we also need to maintain what we have: repairing, modernizing and optimising the existing infrastructure to make it more efficient and energy efficient as well.

Those are the things that we'll be looking at over the next two years, so we're going to get the money out into the community, into the economy and play a role, a federal role, that has been absent in the past.

CH: Have you learned how to spend infrastructure money better than when the Conservatives were in power? 

AS: I was a city councilor then and one of the things that municipalities really demonstrated to the federal government during that [2008 economic crisis] stimulus time is that if you trust your local governments, they'll achieve results.