Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna. (The Canadian Press)

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna. (The Canadian Press)

Feds earmark $3.3B for provinces, territories for COVID-19 infrastructure

The federal government is envisioning the money will be used to retrofit schools, hospitals and long-term care facilities

The federal government is moving ahead with plans to help provinces and territories shore up their defences against COVID-19 by freeing up billions of dollars to make schools and hospitals more pandemic resistant and expand outdoor public spaces.

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna unveiled details of the plan Wednesday, which followed weeks of talks between Ottawa and provincial and territorial governments — as well as years of criticism about the slow pace of the Liberals’ infrastructure spending.

More than $3.3 billion out of the $33 billion that the Liberal government has previously promised in matching funds for provincial and territorial projects will be available for projects related to the pandemic that are ready to move quickly.

The federal government is envisioning the money will be used to retrofit schools, hospitals and long-term care facilities to better limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, as well as build more bike lanes and walking paths for people to get outside.

Provinces and territories will also be able to use the money to shore up their protections against other disasters such as floods and wildfires. Provincial projects need to be finished by 2021. The territories will have an extra year.

The maximum cost for any single project is $10 million.

To get things moving faster, McKenna said Ottawa is streamlining the process for provinces and territories to submit projects for funding. It will also cover 80 per cent of the cost of eligible projects submitted by provinces, and the full cost from the territories.

Normally, Ottawa would cover one-third of the cost of municipal projects, half the cost of provincial projects and 75 per cent of the cost in Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon.

The goal is “to help address the pandemic, to make communities more resilient, to work on keeping kids and aging parents and all of us safer and also to improve the quality of life,” McKenna said during a news conference at the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa.

“We will be speeding up project approvals. We will be opening up new projects eligible for funding. … And recognizing the challenging financial situation for municipalities and provinces, we’ll be offering a bigger federal share.”

ALSO READ: Canadian company urges human trials after COVID-19 vaccine results in mice

The new approach comes as most governments across the country are looking at reopening schools in the next month and trying to better protect nursing homes and other facilities from new outbreaks of COVID-19.

At the same time, many provincial and municipal governments are facing significant financial pressure due to the pandemic, which has caused severe economic damage and uncertainty in local communities.

The federal government has promised billions of dollars in stimulus funding, though McKenna acknowledged the infrastructure funds in question on Wednesday had been previously announced.

The government says every province and territory has at least 10 per cent of its allotment from the $33-billion Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program unspent, and that each will be able to decide which of that remaining money to divert to COVID-19 projects.

Ottawa will now have to sign agreements with the provinces and territories modifying the terms of the previous infrastructure-funding arrangements.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which represents communities across the country, welcomed the new measure as reflective of the concerns they have raised about getting more federal infrastructure money out the door faster.

“The federal government has heard us and also believes that supporting local action with more flexibility in funding, more efficient approvals and higher federal contributions will help municipal leaders across the country get projects out the door faster,” FCM president Bill Karsten said in a statement.

But NDP infrastructure critic Taylor Bachrach suggested the new measure amounted to robbing Peter to pay Paul, as the $33-billion fund was already insufficient to meet the needs of provinces and municipalities.

“Shifting this existing program and the same pot of money to new COVID-related issues means other needs will go unmet,” he said. “Offering new ways to access and cut up the same pie might sound nice, but it doesn’t actually get you any more pie.”

Conservative infrastructure critic Luc Berthold blasted the Liberals for not having acted sooner to support Canadian municipalities as well as the slow pace of infrastructure spending over the years.

Disagreements and tensions between many provincial governments and Ottawa kept some projects from going ahead. The parliamentary budget office has issued several reports outlining the sloth-like pace of project approvals and complex nature of the arrangements.

Opposition parties in the House of Commons joined forces in January to pass a motion asking for an official audit of the Investing in Canada program, which overall committed more than $180 billion across more than a decade to infrastructure programs.

“The Liberal government has failed to work with our municipal and provincial partners to get shovels in the ground and deliver projects on time and on budget when our economy needed it the most, and they’ve waited too long before approving municipal projects that could have provided jobs and a boost to their economies this summer,” Berthold said.

McKenna underscored that as the country adapts to COVID-19, “every taxpayer dollar we invest, needs to do triple duty.

“It needs to keep Canadians healthy and safe by making communities more resilient. It needs to create jobs and create economic stability. And it needs to tackle the big challenges we have, like climate change and inequality.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusinfrastructure

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

C.E. “Ned” Bentley owned a garage on Shaughnessy Avenue, now Lakeshore Drive in Summerland. Bentley later went on to serve on Summerland’s council and was recognized with the Good Citizen Award in 1939. (Summerland Museum photo)
Former Summerland reeve once ran garage

C.E. “Ned” Bentley was a prominent figure in Summerland’s past.

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is offering home compost bins at reduced prices until March 25. (Contributed)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen offers compost bins at wholesale costs

Pricing offer at participating stores in place until March 25

Council has left some grant money in reserves in case there is a need later in the year. File photo
COVID makes some of the 2021 grant decisions for Princeton council

Municipality doles out funds while striving to meet policy

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Multiple people were injured at a Vernon home following an early-morning break-in Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Black Press file photo)
Multiple people left injured following break-and-enter in Vernon

Police believe the early-morning break-in was targeted and not a threat to the general public

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Second COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kelowna General Hospital

One patient and one staff member on Unit have tested positive for the virus.

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

A Coldstream resident who found an owl struggling on her property in March 2021 is now spreading awareness of about the knock-on effects of rodent poisoning. (Kathy Renaud photo)
Okanagan owl ‘fighting for her life’ after ingesting rat poison

Coldstream resident warns against the use of rodenticide due to risk of secondary poisoning in raptors

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Fire ripped through a mobile home on Boucherie Road in West Kelowna on March. 6. (Phil McLachlan - West Kelowna News)
‘My whole life just went up in smoke’; Fire consumes Okanagan mobile home

RCMP confirmed that there were no injuries due to the fire

Most Read