Local business leaders received a personal assurance this morning from Heritage Minister Shelly Glover that Manitobans will benefit, and soon, from the recently unveiled $14-billion New Building Canada Fund.
All they have to do is wait.
Glover, Manitoba’s senior cabinet minister, was speaking at the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce MBiz Breakfast Series at the RBC Convention Centre where she spoke about some details of the fund, part of the $53-billion New Building Canada Plan announced in last year's federal budget, which will be available this spring.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Thursday that the New Building Canada Fund's framework has been established.
Glover said this morning that details on the application process is coming, and she took a swipe at the provincial government for jumping the gun.
It is a fund that will offer provinces, cities and smaller communities access to federal money for infrastructure improvements over the next 10 years.
"The New Building Canada Plan was designed to focus on projects that contribute to Canada's economic growth, prosperity and job creation. We are continuing to work with our partners to finalize the policy framework of the New Building Canada Fund," Glover told the assembled group of about 111 representatives from the local business community.
"Once these terms and conditions are finalized, we will be in a position to begin identifying projects for funding. Our government remains committed to working collaboratively with the other levels of government to determine priority projects for our province."
But Glover chastised the Selinger government for jumping the gun on digging in to the fund before the process for accessing it has even been finalized.
"And I must say, I have watched, with interest, as the provincial government has recently committed to over a billion dollars, almost $1.4 billion in fact, for infrastructure projects throughout Manitoba," Glover said.
"It is a little unorthodox to read about hundreds of millions of dollars in expected federal infrastructure investments for projects that have never been raised with either myself nor the federal infrastructure minister. We've never seen requests for assistance, no business plans, no proposals, no numbers other than what is contained in news releases."
Glover was likely referring to announcement earlier this week by provincial Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton who said the province, with matching funds from Ottawa, expects to spend $213 million improving the Trans-Canada Highway west of Winnipeg to the Saskatchewan boundary.
Last December, Selinger had announced six other projects costing $997 million over five years for which matching funding was anticipated from the federal government from the New Building Canada Fund.
"This is not how we do business. We certainly didn't want to pre-empt consideration of projects from across Manitoba by cherry-picking priorities before the new details of New Building Canada Fund had even been announced," Glover said. "We are happy to partner on projects that benefit Manitoba and Manitobans but the New Building Canada Fund is not a blank cheque. All municipalities, every single municipality, has a voice at our table. Now is the time to ensure that their priority projects, along with detailed business plans, are ready to be submitted for consideration."
Ashton said he was surprised by Glover’s comments and said the provincial government was following usual procedure in announcing projects under its capital plan.
"That’s the way you do it. You make the announcement, you do the engineering work, you get the project ready to go and if there is eligibility for federal funding, we’ve always made it clear we would be applying. If you look at any of our news releases, they were strictly about our provincial commitment," he said in a telephone interview.
"Our approach is that if there’s money available for Manitobans, we want to see it accessed."
It has been reported that the $14-billion New Building Canada Fund includes $4 billion set aside for projects of "national significance" which are a federal priority.
The fund's remaining $10 billion will be channelled to infrastructure and community projects in the provinces and territories — with $1 billion of that earmarked for communities with populations under 100,000.
Provincial highways, major roads and public transit are priorities. Half the funding on total project costs in those areas would be expected to come from the federal governement.
--with files from Bruce Owen, Larry Kusch, The Canadian Press