Infrastructure funding needed

A healthy, advanced, and safe public infrastructure is essential for economic development and to raising the quality of life for individuals and families.
That’s why I tabled a motion last week that would see the federal government assist small rural communities throughout Canada with developing, repairing, and upgrading their core public infrastructure.
The motion itself (M-433) reads as follows: “That, in the opinion of the House, the government should consider working with all levels of government to establish a long-term Rural Infrastructure Fund, spanning a period of 20 years, to assist rural municipalities with populations of 10,000 residents or less in their efforts to develop, repair, and upgrade core public infrastructure.”
It was drafted after consulting many local leaders throughout the Thunder Bay-Rainy River riding and Northern Ontario, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) among others.
Everyone seems to agree there is a funding shortfall for infrastructure in Canada, but also that small rural communities are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to raising money from property taxes because their populations are smaller and more spread out than urban centres.
The very foundations of Canada’s core infrastructure first were forged in the early 1800s, prior to Confederation. Both the Lachine and Welland canals were completed during this time to simplify travel by water and enhance key trade routes.
As time progressed, communities began to pave roads, build bridges, establish water systems, and electrify their cities. Not only did this new-found infrastructure improve the quality of every-day life, but it served as the nexus between towns and future provinces, which strengthened the economy and spurred job growth.
This development reached its apex following the Second World War, during what was considered the golden age of infrastructure.
Today, we see a picture of Canada’s core infrastructure that is altogether different; much of which is nearing the end of its service life and in great need of repair.
According to the FCM, an injection of more than $90 billion is required for new roads across the country—and that’s not including funds needed to repair those which already exists.
For example, a 2012 study done on 118 Canadian municipalities revealed 52 percent of all roads were deemed to be in fair to very poor conditions. How did we reach this stage of deterioration?
While it easily could be attributed to the fallout of the end of the post-war economic boom, there a number of forces responsible. As development for infrastructure peaked in the 1970s, the federal government gradually placed its efforts elsewhere.
That not only meant a reduction of federal funds towards core infrastructure, but also a shedding of more responsibility to the provinces and municipalities.
Presently, more than 60 percent of Canada’s infrastructure is under municipal jurisdiction, according to the FCM. With property taxes being the primary method for municipalities to generate revenue (outside of applying for federal or provincial grant money), costly infrastructure revitalization projects often are put on hold due to insufficient funds.
This presents a considerable problem for small rural municipalities which, in dealing with long stretches of road and bridges in particular, must confront the issue of repairing larger infrastructure with even lesser funding.
In tabling M-433, I sought to address this issue. It is centered on rural municipalities with 10,000 residents or less because the revenue problem is particularly acute for them.
My concern with existing infrastructure programs is that they often are three-way partnerships between the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of governments. So what happens when a municipality is unable to participate because it simply does not have the matching funds?
Occasionally, the other levels of government “find” extra money to help out, but this arrangement is neither predictable nor sustainable.
We need to remedy this if our small rural communities are to be healthy and prosperous places to live and do business tomorrow, next year, and a decade from now. It also is key for towns like Atikokan and Fort Frances, among others, which have significant forestry and mining projects under development.
We need a safe and efficient way to get these products to market—and something positive for the residents of the communities that are host to these operations.
With the Building Canada Fund (which has a small communities component) set to expire in the next year, the need for a new Rural Infrastructure Fund for small communities is great and increasing.
The longer we wait to implement an accessible fund for small rural municipalities, the costlier these revitalization projects will be.
Core infrastructure is the bedrock of a growing economy and higher quality of life, but this is especially true for small and rural communities.