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Money for 'major' infrastructure projects in budget, Flaherty says

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Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty speaks at a pre-budget press event at the factory for the Canadian shoe company Mello Shoes in Toronto on Friday February 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

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Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty speaks at a pre-budget press event at the factory for the Canadian shoe company Mello Shoes in Toronto on Friday February 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

OTTAWA - Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says his upcoming federal budget will contain money for "major" infrastructure projects.

Flaherty told CTV's Question Period that infrastructure is a good investment, but the government must be prudent at the same time.

"There will be money for infrastructure, and very importantly, major infrastructure projects in Canada, major economic infrastructure projects," Flaherty said.

"It is all about the economy and jobs. I mean, that's the primary job of the federal government in this country. We will be investing and we will be ensuring that we move forward on the economic front, not just balance the budget."

One such project might be a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ont. Reports earlier this month said Canada plans to start buying land on the Michigan side of the Detroit River to build the new crossing, a short distance from the existing Ambassador Bridge.

Canada's outgoing consul-general in Detroit, Roy Norton, told the Detroit Free Press that Canada is paying almost all of the $2-billion cost of building the new bridge with an eye to recoup its money from future tolls going in both directions.

"We're about to proceed with land purchases some time in the next few months, and we're going to do that whether there's been an indication from the U.S. government on a commitment to the customs plaza or not," the paper quoted Norton as saying.

"That involves a little bit of risk on our part, obviously, but we're so confident that this ultimately will be built that it's prudent to do that."

In its recent throne speech, the Harper government signalled it would spend billions of dollars over the next decade on major regional infrastructure projects. The throne speech explicitly mentioned the second Detroit-Windsor bridge, subways in the Greater Toronto Area, replacing the Champlain Bridge in Montreal and building Vancouver's Evergreen Line rapid-transit extension.

Any spending on infrastructure must get the approval of the federal auditor general, Flaherty told CTV.

Flaherty also says it's important that any federal infrastructure spending doesn't fall prey to corruption, as it has in some parts of the country — a thinly veiled reference to Quebec's construction scandals.

"We don't want any corruption. We don't want the kinds of inappropriate behaviour that we're seeing in some parts of the country when it comes to infrastructure," he said.

"So, we are careful, we are cautious. The infrastructure we build is built for economic purposes. It's not built to glorify somebody's ego."

An ongoing public inquiry in Quebec has heard stunning testimony about illegal political financing, corruption of officials and Mafia and biker ties in the province's construction sector.

The finance minister is set to release his budget on Tuesday.

Follow @steve_rennie on Twitter

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