Mr. Speaker, I previously asked if steps would be taken to allow for funding for infrastructure to flow directly to municipalities. It is extremely important that these steps be taken, as approximately 60% of infrastructure in Canada is under municipal jurisdiction. Funding infrastructure in our country, therefore, means getting it to the municipalities.
The government's budget 2017 states that because rural and northern communities of under 100,000 have unique infrastructure needs that require a more targeted approach, the government will invest $2 billion over 11 years to support a broad range of infrastructure projects. It is to be allocated to provinces and territories on a basis of per capita allocation. This is a bit self-contradicting, in the sense that the government will distribute it on allocation to municipalities, but the province gets the option of how it distributes it and whether it needs to go directly to municipalities. A targeted approach would target the rural municipalities themselves, not allocate the funds to a provincial government. If anything, this method of allocation has missed the target, as is apparent in the experience of many Alberta municipalities.
Small municipalities pass budgets that allocate funds to getting projects shovel ready, but they are wasting considerable time and money doing so. Getting projects ready when they are informed to get on that list is a very expensive project, especially for small communities. Engineering costs a lot of money, so when getting those projects ready, it costs money to apply to get some of the money. Their time and money are wasted because their applications became stale-dated, unlike large municipalities that have shovel-ready projects they can pull off the shelf. Smaller ones cannot do that.
Engineered projects are important to small communities, but the province allocates the funds to these shovel-ready projects instead of supporting the smaller ones, because they can pull them off the shelf immediately.
Budget 2017 also states that bilateral agreements with provinces and territories will have flexible terms, so that funds can be directed to the areas with the greatest need. This seems well intentioned, but the implementation is clearly lacking. Small or rural municipalities under 100,000 that may be in great need of infrastructure investment in many cases simply cannot compete with larger cities with shovel-ready projects. Cities of 100,000 are different from those of 1,000, 5,000, or 10,000.
Infrastructure dollars should be disseminated to municipalities in a similar manner to the gas tax refund. This way, municipalities could use the funds to engineer the projects, get them shovel ready, and implement them. This is what an approach that hits its target looks like.
The government's bilateral agreements with provincial and territorial governments need to be re-evaluated for phase two to ensure that infrastructure dollars actually get to the municipalities for which they were intended. The agreement should explicitly state that the money goes to municipalities so that we do not have a repeat of the hundreds of millions of dollars of new Building Canada fund money that ended up being spent as Alberta government general revenue. It should contain provisions that accommodate the needs of municipalities that are in the process of engineering shovel-ready projects.
Will the government now commit to ensuring that funding flows directly to the municipalities? It can be flow-through, as with the gas tax, but if it is a bilateral that allows them to use it for their own purposes—