Feds unveil new COVID-19 stream for provincial infrastructure program

Feds unveil new COVID-19 stream for provincial infrastructure program

OTTAWA — The federal government is preparing to spend more than $3 billion in infrastructure money on projects to make facilities more pandemic-resistant and encourage outdoor activities in the age of COVID-19, Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna says.

McKenna told The Canadian Press in an interview Tuesday that while many of her cabinet colleagues have spent the last two months responding to the immediate crisis, her department has been doubling its effort to review and approve infrastructure projects submitted by provinces and territories for federal funding.

Hundreds of applications have been greenlit in recent weeks, though the specific announcements have yet to be made. But she said that in conversations with provincial and territorial leaders since March, it became clear there were needs created by the pandemic that weren’t being met under the existing programs.

“We have adapted our infrastructure program to the new reality of COVID,” said McKenna.

It will include things like retrofitting health-care facilities and schools, particularly with a view to allowing for more physical distancing and making it easier to practise good hygiene like handwashing. Projects to help people find ways to get outside safely will also be a priority, such as new or better paths, bike lanes, and nature trails.

The government is setting aside up to 10 per cent of the $33.5-billion provincial and territorial component of the Investing in Canada program as a COVID-19 fund to focus on responding to the pandemic, with Ottawa paying a bigger share of the bill.

“That stream is really recognizing some real opportunities to support the health response but also the economic response so we get projects going in the next one to two years,” said McKenna.

The Liberals have been criticized for being slow to get their massive infrastructure programs moving. 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 the complex nature of the arrangements.

In January, the opposition parties in the House of Commons joined forces 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.

About half the $33.5 billion coming through signed agreements with the provinces and territories has yet to be allocated, said McKenna.

Normally, Ottawa would cover one-third of the cost of municipal projects, and one-half of the cost of provincial projects. The COVID-19 program will bump Ottawa’s share up to 80 per cent, leaving provinces to determine whether and how to split the remaining 20 per cent with municipal governments when relevant.

Ottawa will foot 100 per cent of the bill for projects in the territories, up from 75 per cent. Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut are also getting an extra year to finish the work, allowing for the fact that getting supplies to the territories for building this summer will be difficult, said McKenna.

Provinces will have to get things done by the end of the 2021 construction season, though McKenna said extra effort is being put into getting many things started this summer.

McKenna said the government’s previous goals for its infrastructure programs — namely public transit, green infrastructure and high-speed Internet access — remain. The adaptations will make it easier to achieve those goals and build things quicker to meet needs and create jobs.

But she insists it will not be as easy as approving everything that gets suggested, and while approval processes will be accelerated they won’t be eliminated.

“We need to get the most value for our money, which is not just shovel-ready projects, but shovel-worthy projects,” she said.

McKenna would not say what Canadians could expect in economic stimulus programs once the crisis response to COVID-19 winds down.

“We’re trying to understand right now what is the scale and what are the needs,” she said.

“This is not a new stimulus program but an attempt to be smarter and more efficient with existing programs.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s Municipal Affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Province and rural municipalities agree on a plan to support Alberta’s energy industry

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

Kjeryn Dakin, owner of Buks and Bukwildz, poses for a photo with her plaque for Business Philanthropy Award, Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake Business Awards show the resiliency of local business community

The business awards was held in six local restaurants on Oct. 17

The influenza vaccine will be available at no cost starting Monday in Alberta. “The more that we can avoid influenza-related tests, emergency visits and hospitalizations, the stronger our system will be to support those with COVID-19 and all other health needs," says Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Hinshaw urges Albertans to get flu shot as COVID cases jump by 332

Alberta’s central zone now has 132 active COVID-19 cases

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council opts to not increase Fortis and ATCO franchise rates

Franchise fees are charged to utility companies for the right and access to distribute commodities

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo. (Shannon Kiss via AP)
‘First guys out:’ Western Canadian air tanker fleet busy despite drop in wildfires

CEO believes wildfires have become more dangerous in recent years as people live closer to where they start

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

robbery
UPDATE: Suspect identified in early morning shooting

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Executive Director of Agape Kate Halas (left) receives $1000 from Sgt. Eric Christensen (right) on behalf of Agape. Photo/ Shaela Dansereau.
Former Wetaskiwin Peace Officer wins provincial award; gives back to Wetaskiwin community

Eric Christensen has won the Alberta Association of Community Peace Officers Award of Excellence.

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Big boost for Alberta college agriculture research

The $2-million agreement to benefit Lethbridge College’s applied research team

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Canadian couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Employee Sophia Lovink shows off a bag of merchandise in Toronto on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Canada gets C-average grade on 2nd year of cannabis legalization

Cannabis Council of Canada releases report card on federal government and legalization

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States are being extended until at least Nov. 21. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Non-essential travel restrictions at Canada-U.S. border extended to at least Nov. 21

The restrictions do not apply to those providing essential services in either country

(The Canadian Perss)
Banff wolves have lower survival rate due to hunting, trapping outside park boundary

Researchers looked at 72 radio-collared wolves in the national park from 1987 to August 2019

Most Read