Time for some well-placed stimulus spending

News stories about crumbling public infrastructure, like the recent sinkhole in Ottawa that swallowed a car, highlight a significant challenge that is happening right across the country and going largely unaddressed by our federal government.   I hear from communities in Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing about this on a regular basis.  This sad legacy that we are poised to place at the feet of our children is largely avoidable and addressing it would be a boon to our sluggish economy and a smart investment in our communities.

This opinion was echoed recently as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) released their first ever Canadian Infrastructure Report Card.  They argue that crumbling infrastructure and events like sinkholes or concrete falling from bridges are not ‘freak accidents’ but are symptoms of overburdened municipalities who need the federal government to commit to adequate infrastructure funding that will tackle deteriorating roads and water systems.

The infrastructure called for is the basic nuts and bolts of our communities and to barge ahead without addressing the growing deficiency makes little sense.   The previous round of stimulus spending focused on smaller ‘shovel-ready’ projects which were politically expedient, but didn’t address many real infrastructure challenges.  Additionally, the premium placed on projects that could easily be completed gave larger communities an upper hand in the process.  Cities that employ engineers were able to meet the narrow timeline and many rural and northern communities were hobbled from the start. 

While that stimulus spending did some infrastructure work, it also delivered a lot of projects like arenas.  What remains is a problem that has basic safety at its heart.  The FCM tells us 21% of our roads are in poor condition.  Their report card shows more than 200 communities across the country suffer from water quality problems and over half of those have boil water advisories in place.

For communities waiting to begin repairs to crumbling roads, water and sewer systems, jurisdictional squabbles change nothing.  In the north, the burden is that much more acute as distance and smaller populations come into play.  The need for leadership is clear and the federal government is the most suited to answer it.

Even China with its incredible economic growth rate is committing to another round of stimulus spending.  If we are going to try to keep pace with them as trading partners, we cannot do it from within a crumbling house.

Ultimately, a round of stimulus funding focused on infrastructure would create jobs and help ease the growing burden placed on municipalities from years of downloaded costs.  A commitment to adequate, predictable, long-term funding for our municipalities would send a signal that Canada is planning for a prosperous future and making the investment needed to ensure that flows to all regions.