Municipalities encourage Canadians to advocate for infrastructure funding

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By Anja Karadeglija

Special to the GTA Construction Report

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is hoping that an effort to get Canadians talking about infrastructure will help influence the federal government to make infrastructure funding a priority as they put together the 2013 budget.

The FMC launched the “Great Canadian Infrastructure Challenge” to urge people across the country to let the government know infrastructure is important to them. The campaign involves a series of challenges, like Tweeting about the problems facing Canada’s infrastructure.

“What we’re trying to do is involve the Canadian public in a very important issue that generally is taken for granted but in fact is very important for quality of life and economic growth and global competitiveness,” said FCM president Karen Leibovici, noting the campaign is also aimed at municipalities. “We looked at different methods of communication and knowing that social media is very powerful, we embarked on this particular campaign to, in a sense, make it fun but also to get people involved in the subject.”

She noted that “it’s a way to provide advocacy to the federal government by getting Canadians involved.” The campaign also aims to get Canadians to understand what the issues are.

“What this campaign hopefully does is answer some questions that people have and to personalize it a little bit as well so that there’s a better understanding of the issues that municipalities face in meeting the infrastructure challenges,” she explained. Leibovici added she hopes the answer will eventually inspire some discussions around the dinner table.

Federal government funding is crucial because, “as municipalities, we don’t have the fiscal capacity to build the infrastructure that’s required in this country.”Municipalities are responsible for the majority of infrastructure – 60 per cent – and much of it is 40 to 50 years old. “So there’s obviously work that needs to happen,” she said.

The FCM has long been a voice for infrastructure funding, but started this latest effort because right now is a crucial time in infrastructure funding. The Building Canada Fund is set to run out in 2014, and in order to avoid a gap between that funding running out and other programs being put in place, the government will have to include infrastructure funding in the 2013 budget. It has promised a new long-term infrastructure plan, and the FCM wants to make sure that plan is included in the next budget.

“In order not to miss the construction season, we in fact need to ensure there is an understanding in the 2013 budget,” she said. Unless municipalities are made aware this year of what they’ll receive in 2014, they won’t be able to include it in their budgets and they won’t be able to tender the projects.

The new long-term infrastructure plan was announced in June 2011, and recently held cross-country roundtables with stakeholders. A coalition of partners that includes the FCM, the Canadian Construction Association and Engineers Canada has agreed on a set of five principles for the new plan.

“The principles were the secure, stable investment. That obviously a goal of this is to support economic growth, we need to have, with regard to any funding arrangement, flexibilities, ensuring that communities are kept strong,” Leibovici explained. “And where possible, to utilize partnerships and of course… to help build municipal capacity to deal with infrastructure issues.”

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