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Evidence of meeting #4 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was funding.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jean-François Tremblay  Deputy Minister, Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, Department of Transport
Helena Borges  Associate Deputy Minister, Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, Department of Transport

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair (Hon. Judy A. Sgro (Humber River—Black Creek, Lib.)) Liberal Judy Sgro

I call the meeting to order.

This is the fourth meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are studying the mandate of the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities.

Minister Sohi, I welcome you. On behalf of the committee, I want to thank you for responding so quickly to our invitation. Congratulations on your new role. We will very much enjoy the opportunity to talk to you and to ask you many questions on your important portfolio.

Pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), we have the main estimates of 2016-17, votes 1, 5, and 10 under the Office of Infrastructure of Canada.

Minister, I will turn it over to you. Would you like to introduce the officials who are with you today?

March 7th, 2016 / 3:30 p.m.

Edmonton Mill Woods Alberta

Liberal

Amarjeet Sohi LiberalMinister of Infrastructure and Communities

I will.

First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to speak with you.

I would like to extend my congratulations to you, Chair, as well as to Luc Berthold and Linda Duncan on their recent elections as vice-chairs.

I have been asked to appear today to speak with you about my role in the development of a 10-year Canadian infrastructure plan and the delivery of a refocused new building Canada fund. I also want to talk about what my department is going to do to support the government's commitment to transparency and openness.

I'm joined today by my deputy minister, Mr. Tremblay, as well as associate deputy ministers Yazmine Laroche and Helena Borges, and assistant deputy minister Darlene Boileau.

I will begin by addressing the items on the main estimates.

Infrastructure Canada's total authorities for 2016-17 are $3.9 billion. Included in the department's main estimates is $2.1 billion through the gas tax fund, which is predictable funding for Canadian municipalities for their infrastructure priorities. There is also $1.6 billion in contribution funding available for provincial and territorial infrastructure projects. The remaining amount identified represents operating funding for Infrastructure Canada to administer and deliver these programs, and capital funding for the acquisition of land for the new Champlain Bridge corridor project and the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Infrastructure Canada's expenditures match the pace at which funding partners build infrastructure projects and subsequently submit claims for eligible expenses. If recipients do not claim the expenses they forecast in any given fiscal year, Infrastructure Canada asks Parliament to re-profile program funds through future year appropriations to meet the cash flow needs of the recipients.

As you know, our government has committed to invest $60 billion in new infrastructure over the next 10 years. This funding does not appear in our 2016-17 estimates, but we are working with Minister Morneau as he develops the budget.

Now I will speak about the 10-year infrastructure plan and the refocusing of the new building Canada fund.

Everyone in this room knows that there are significant advantages to infrastructure investments, both in the short term and in the long term. Well-planned investments in infrastructure generate economic growth, create jobs, and leave a lasting legacy for Canadians.

But infrastructure is so much more than the structures themselves. It's more than concrete and water pipes, or roads and bridges, or buses and train tracks. Infrastructure is really about people. It is what connects Canadians to their communities and allows them to be active participants, both socially and economically.

Infrastructure is about parents sleeping in peace knowing that their children will have clean and safe water to drink. It is about a safe haven and a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence, and clean and safe housing for someone who has no other options. It is also about Canadians having decent, well-paid jobs that allow them to raise their families and give them a high quality of life. Infrastructure can do that.

Infrastructure is the foundation that shapes our communities, making them more livable and sustainable and providing the places where we want to live, work, and play. Our infrastructure investments must be made strategically, collaboratively, and with a long-term vision. They need to focus on projects that are not only shovel-ready but also shovel-worthy.

All orders of government have an equal role to play in building strong communities, and I'm working collaboratively with our government partners and indigenous communities, as well as our stakeholders and municipal association partners, to build the infrastructure this country needs. Collaboration will be key to our success.

I have already had extensive discussions with our provincial, territorial, and municipal partners and have met with mayors from across the country and representatives from indigenous communities. I have met numerous times with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I met last month with the Big City Mayors' Caucus, and I have met with other key stakeholders and associations, such as the Canadian Urban Transit Association. We are designing our new approach to infrastructure in collaboration with our partners. By working together, we will provide the long-term, dedicated, and predictable funding that will help build communities for the 21st century.

Let me talk about our plan.

We have committed to doubling infrastructure investment over the coming decade. This means $60 billion of additional investments over the next 10 years that will focus on three strategic areas: public transit, green infrastructure, and social infrastructure. In our desire to start supporting communities as quickly as possible, we have also committed to investing $10 billion of that money in the next two years.

We are also planning changes to the building Canada fund to make it more focused on strategic and trade-enabling infrastructure priorities, including roads, bridges, transportation corridors, ports, and border gateways. Also, we are looking at ways to make the application process more responsive and flexible to allow communities across the country to access funding more easily and rapidly.

Moving forward, we are faced with the challenge of getting infrastructure investments into our economy quickly while ensuring that we also act in a long-term and strategic way. Our work and investments over the next two years must lay the foundation for longer-term transformative change.

We know that infrastructure across the country is not in a state of good repair. The recent report card of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities reported that the condition of one-third of municipal infrastructure is between fair and very poor, and that at current reinvestment rates this infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. My consultations with partners reiterated that this critical aspect of infrastructure—recapitalization and repairs—demands attention. By focusing on the repairing of our existing infrastructure, we can fix what we have now instead of delaying and paying more to fix it later.

As we begin to invest in infrastructure, we also propose to make investments that can enhance municipal planning, asset management, and data collection capacity. This will help all orders of government make evidence-based decisions and put us on a more sustainable path.

By providing targeted infrastructure investment in social, green, and public transit projects and refocusing the new building Canada fund, we will be able to address the real needs of Canadian communities.

Finally, as I mentioned in my introduction, I want to speak about my department's commitment to transparency and openness. My department, like several others, has posted on our website the table of contents for the briefing binder I received when I was sworn in as minister. Anyone can reach out to the department and request to receive a copy of my briefing materials at no cost.

We have posted the signed project agreements for the work being done on the new Champlain Bridge. Last month, we posted a breakdown of the funding remaining in the new building Canada fund for each province and territory, which provides a clear picture of how much funding we have remaining to accelerate in the coming months and years, as we have committed to do. Also, I have been posting updates to our website that tell Canadians what I have been doing as Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, the partners I have met with, the meetings I have attended, and the projects I have visited.

As you know, our government has an ambitious plan to build communities that are sustainable and inclusive. By working in partnership with other orders of government and key stakeholders, we can develop and implement an evidence-based, strategic, and collaborative plan, one that will support us as we work to build the communities in which Canadians desire to live.

Thank you so much for having me here today.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Judy Sgro

Thank you very much, Minister Sohi. I appreciate your being brief. You still had two minutes left, so that will leave more time for the committee members.

Starting with the Conservative side is Ms. Watts, for six minutes.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Thank you very much. I appreciate you and your staff giving this time to the committee. It gives us a good opportunity to have some good dialogue and flesh out some things.

I first want to thank you. I know you've mentioned the gas tax fund numerous times, so I want to thank you very much for doing that. As you know, it has been in place for I guess almost a decade. We've had very good success with it with respect to our government and, of course, with respect to doubling it and then indexing it to make sure that it would remain in perpetuity. That's been very helpful to communities. When I was a mayor, I had the benefit of that as well.

I have a couple of questions in terms of the 10-year infrastructure plan. I know that's under way now, but when you're saying that there's not any additional monies that will be figured into the plan because it's not in the budget, is it anticipated that it will be in the budget?

The reason I ask this question is that I know there was an announcement of, I think, $10 million over the next two years that will go to roadwork. There was also an announcement by the Prime Minister of another $2 billion over two years for projects to reduce carbon pollution, and another $5.4 billion over four years for green infrastructure projects.

Are these already included in the budget and not as part of the additional...? Because under this stream, it would be $20 billion over and above the existing budget.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Amarjeet Sohi Liberal Edmonton Mill Woods, AB

Thank you for that question.

What we have committed to do is spend $10 billion of additional money—

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Existing money.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Amarjeet Sohi Liberal Edmonton Mill Woods, AB

—the additional money that we committed to in the campaign, which is under green infrastructure, social infrastructure, and transit infrastructure. That $10 billion of additional money will be part of the budget process for approval. This is the new commitment that we made on top of accelerating the existing funding that is available to communities under the building Canada fund.

As you may recall, in 2014 the previous government allocated $14 billion under the new building Canada fund. Very little of that money has actually been spent so far, so we have about $9 billion in one component and $3 billion in another component that is left to be committed. Our goal is to commit that money as the projects come to us from provinces, because this is the provinces' money, allocated based on each province. In addition to that is the new commitment of $10 billion for green infrastructure, social infrastructure, and transit infrastructure over the next two years, which is part of the budget process.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Right. Okay. Just to go a bit further on that, because I know there's been especially within the green fund.... Again, thank you for using the green fund. We set that up in 2009. In terms of the $20 billion for each strand and the $10 billion for the next two years, how much is going to be allocated within each of those strands?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Amarjeet Sohi Liberal Edmonton Mill Woods, AB

Our overall commitment over the next 10 years is—

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

No, over two years.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Amarjeet Sohi Liberal Edmonton Mill Woods, AB

Over 10 years—let me explain it. Over the 10 years, it's $20 billion for public transit, $20 billion for green infrastructure, and $20 billion for social infrastructure.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Yes.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Amarjeet Sohi Liberal Edmonton Mill Woods, AB

For the first two years, our commitment is to spend $10 billion of that in each category in a similar amount. Over two years, it will be $3.4 billion in each—

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

In each strand?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Amarjeet Sohi Liberal Edmonton Mill Woods, AB

In each of the three categories.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Okay. That's over and above the existing—

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Amarjeet Sohi Liberal Edmonton Mill Woods, AB

That is over and above the existing building Canada fund.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

The existing amount? Okay.

I know that the P3 screening has been removed. Will there be additional screening for infrastructure projects added to that? I know that it was removed for the process piece to speed things up. Are there additional processes we're adding on top of that?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Amarjeet Sohi Liberal Edmonton Mill Woods, AB

What we are doing is streamlining some of the processes that we have in order to flow the resources to communities as quickly and effortlessly as possible. Part of that streamlining is the removal of the P3 screening for any project that is over $100 million.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Right.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Amarjeet Sohi Liberal Edmonton Mill Woods, AB

We don't own the infrastructure that we support. The communities own the infrastructure. We believe it should be up to the private proponents to decide how they're going to procure their projects and whether they want to go with P3 or not. That decision should be up to them.

What we do is see if those projects fit into the federal criteria in the existing funding. As we develop the new funding for the additional $10 billion, we will be developing the criteria to support the federal outcomes of growing the economy, making it more productive and efficient, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and building inclusive communities.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Judy Sgro

Thank you very much.

I'm sorry, Ms. Watts, your time is up.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dianne Lynn Watts Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Thank you, Minister.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Judy Sgro

Mr. Badawey.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Vance Badawey Liberal Niagara Centre, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, Minister, for being with us today. It's something we've all looked forward to for quite some time.

In your comments, you've identified with respect to transportation and the economy how important it is that they're both aligned, as was most recently identified within the Emerson report. You correctly identified a need to make the application process more responsive and to focus on trade-enabling infrastructure and those priorities, including transportation corridors, ports, and border gateways.

Mr. Minister, the Minister of Transport recently tabled in Parliament a report on the review of the Canada Transportation Act and identified a few recommendations. One of those recommendations includes transportation infrastructure. The report recommends that the federal government develop a comprehensive, long-term, 20-year to 30-year transportation infrastructure plan.

My question through you, Madam Chair, to the minister is, does the government plan on implementing the recommendations, and if so what are the timelines for developing this plan, and what is Infrastructure Canada's role in its overall implementation?