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Ottawa fears continued delays on infrastructure spending in Quebec, part of growing frustration over stalled projects

Ottawa fears continued delays on infrastructure spending in Quebec, part of growing frustration over stalled projects
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OTTAWA — The federal government fears Quebec could continue to delay infrastructure projects after the province stalled two flood mitigation developments in Montreal, adding to worries that provincial dithering will continue to stall Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s spending plans.

Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne is to meet this week with his counterpart in Quebec in a bid to encourage the province to move ahead with a package of six infrastructure projects, including two developments totalling more than $200 million in federal contributions.

An official at Infrastructure Canada would not identify the specific projects but said the meeting is part of a wider effort to make headway on a number of stalled developments in Quebec, a region that is set to be a key battleground in the upcoming federal election.

Those six projects are in addition to two flood mitigation developments proposed for Montreal, totalling $54 million in federal contributions, that the Quebec government has yet to approve despite sustained efforts by Infrastructure Canada to push the projects forward. Both projects, which would essentially protect against flooding along the Saint Lawrence River, do not involve any provincial money.

The delays underscore deepening frustrations in Ottawa over what it claims is a tardiness in some provinces to approve and move ahead with federal projects, saying it has led to delays in the Liberal government’s sprawling infrastructure spending program.

Ottawa plans to spend $190 billion over 12 years to expand Canada’s roads, bridges, telecommunications lines and other infrastructure, part of a 2015 campaign promise by Trudeau to boost the ailing economy.

It’s only managed to spend $42.3 billion over the past three years, according to Infrastructure Canada data. About $25 billion of that spending has gone toward new Liberal infrastructure programs announced since 2015.

Criticized for the slow rollout, Ottawa has long blamed the provinces’ failure to promptly approve projects and send receipts to the federal government.

The delays have been especially long in Quebec — particularly under Premier François Legault, who took power in late 2018. Ottawa has approved 677 projects in Quebec since 2015 under its infrastructure spending plans, but just seven since the Legault government took power, according to Infrastructure Canada data.

The Quebec premier’s office did not respond to request for comment.

Ottawa took steps to sidestep the provinces and give infrastructure dollars directly to Canadian municipalities in its 2019 budget, promising to double funding for the federal gas tax fund for a single year, up to $4.4 billion.

The fund essentially provides infrastructure funding directly to Canadian cities and towns, without requiring federal or provincial approval. Municipal lobby groups such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities have been pressing Ottawa to permanently expand its gas tax fund, arguing it allows cities and towns to plan infrastructure spending in the long term, free from any political meddling.

We are looking to them to say yes so we can get shovels in the ground and get people moving

The two Montreal flood mitigation projects have been delayed for months, according to an official at Infrastructure Canada, due to a failure by the federal government to receive provincial approval under Quebec’s M-30 law. Montreal plans to contribute more than $80 million toward the two developments.

The projects would be funded under the federal government’s $2-billion Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF), which aims to allocate money toward flood and fire mitigation over the next 10 years. A number of regions in Quebec and Ontario were hit with floods this spring, causing widespread damage.

Ottawa could now also be facing delays in its spending plans in Ontario, after the provincial government last week released an updated list of so-called “priority projects.”

The list is part of a 10-year, $30-billion infrastructure spending plan in Ontario, of which the provincial government has called on the feds to contribute $10 billion. Federal officials say the plan does not easily fit with the various streams of funding under Ottawa’s plan.

“The ball is now in their court,” Ontario Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton said. “We are looking to them to say yes so we can get shovels in the ground and get people moving.”

 

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