Good morning and thank you.
On behalf of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, which represents all 198 municipalities, we want to thank you for the opportunity to present here today.
Municipal government has played a huge role in Canada's stimulus plan. Manitoba municipalities have been working flat out to make it a success and want to ensure that every dollar is working to create jobs and build our rural and urban economies for a stronger province and stronger country.
As we all know, the recent economic crisis was one of the worst since the Great Depression. Research has shown that investing in infrastructure is the best way to create jobs and grow your economy. It has been shown that when it comes to fighting a recession, investing in infrastructure is twice as effective as tax cuts.
Weeks before the government even released its economic action plan, municipalities in Manitoba had compiled a list of many shovel-ready projects. Municipalities in Manitoba and right across this country were ready to go to work. In January 2009, we applauded the government's decision to make infrastructure a cornerstone of its economic action plan. In the following months, new funding was rolled out in record time, although there were some challenges.
It took time for the government to negotiate funding agreements, design programs, and approve projects in all provinces and territories. That created time pressures, which we are still trying to manage. The Association of Manitoba Municipalities certainly welcomes the federal government's commitment to being fair and reasonable when it comes to the stimulus deadline.
A lot has been achieved in some 20 months in Manitoba, with 73 approved municipal projects with a total project cost of $75.5 million. Under the Building Canada fund communities component top-up, there were 22 projects approved, for a total of $54.4 million.
From the time all agreements in Manitoba were given the green light, Manitoba municipalities have been going flat out to ensure that those stimulus dollars are working in their communities. Infrastructure Canada has been working closely with Manitoba to monitor these projects and has found that vast majority are on track.
AMM has been in close contact with our members. From what they are telling us, projects are on or ahead of schedule in most places. However, there are also some communities in Manitoba where projects started unusually late. Through no fault of their own, Manitoba municipalities have had to deal with excessive rainfall, delay in provincial approvals, and late approvals in trying to meet the stimulus deadline. In Manitoba, out of 73 projects approved, four are at risk and one will not be completed. Out of the top-up of the 22 projects, two projects are at risk and one will not be completed.
In Manitoba, most budgets were done when the stimulus and Building Canada funds were announced, so expenditures were not in the municipal financial plans and therefore had to go to an additional municipal board hearing for borrowing approval and also public hearings, causing unfortunate delays.
That's one of the problems that we see in Manitoba: the provincial regulations and provincial delays. When there are time-sensitive deadlines, these really play into trying to get these projects completed, because even if you go to the municipal board for a borrowing bylaw, they have up to 90 days to make their decision, therefore delaying projects. It's an unknown for municipalities as to whether or not they will get their borrowing approved. In regard to provincial regulations like the highway traffic board environmental approvals, these are necessary steps in the process, but have also been shown to be barriers in regard to time-sensitive deadlines. That's what we were finding in Manitoba.
Working together, federal, provincial, and territorial governments have helped pull Canada through the darkest days of the recession. Things have not gone perfectly, nor will they ever, especially when you're responding to a global crisis. When it comes to the stimulus deadline, we welcome the federal government's promise to be fair and reasonable.
We have two specific recommendations to help the government live up to that commitment.
First, the government should commit immediately to showing flexibility wherever a community has worked hard to meet the deadline but, through no fault of its own, requires more time to finish a stimulus project. It should encourage the Province of Manitoba to do the same.
Second, the federal and Manitoba governments should direct the public service to start working on the individual communities to adjust project schedules as necessary.
In conclusion, up till now, the three stimulus partners--federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal—have shown flexibility where necessary. The federal government showed flexibility when it worked with each province and territory to design specific stimulus programs that met their regional needs.
Municipalities showed themselves to be flexible when they waited months, and sometimes as long as a year, for all levels of government to approve projects. Now, as we enter the home stretch of the stimulus plan, it is clear that continued flexibility is the key to continued success.
After stimulus, we cannot say that the problem is solved. We must look back at the stimulus program and the lessons learned so that we can work toward a long-term plan for investing in our infrastructure and our communities. We must use what we have learned to look at our longer-term infrastructure needs and to start designing the next generation of federal infrastructure programs. That way, when the fiscal outlook improves, we will be in a position to protect our recent gains and to build the infrastructure that Canada needs to thrive in the 21st century.
Thank you very much.