Blogs & Comment

The silence over Canada’s infrastructure deficit

A need for both the Conservatives and the Liberals to share platforms on Canada's deficit.

Today’s must-read on the election is the Globe’s Barrie McKenna’s column lamenting the near-silence from the major parties on Canada’s severe, and growing, infrastructure deficit. As McKenna writes, the deficit just for municipal infrastructure is $238-billion. That doesn’t count the sorry state of federal bridges or provincial highways, nor does it include the $300 billion needed to upgrade the electricity grid.

Independent agencies, especially the Conference Board of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Municipalities have been warning about this problem for years. The only real step towards rectifying it is the $2 billion Gas Tax Fund, which both the Conservatives and the Liberals say they will make permanent.

For what it is worth, the Liberal platform says the party will establish a Canadian Transportation and Infrastructure Strategy to bring “clarity and coherence” to federal involvement in this area. And it identifies as priorities municipal transportation, water and sewers, and high speed rail. But tellingly, this is not given a costed line in the Liberal plan.

The Conservative approach is even more lethargic. As with the rest of the platform, the party spends a great deal of time bragging about stuff it has done, while leaving what it might to do be determined later. It boasts of the $8.8 billion Building Canada fund (spread over a leisurely seven years), and promises to work with the provinces, territories, and “other stakeholders” to develop a long-term strategy for public infrastructure.

But the real joke, McKenna points out, is that they had precisely such an opportunity, with the $60 billion stimulus package known as the Economic Action Plan. Except it was largely wasted on community centres and hockey rinks — good at generating votes, but poor at generating positive economic returns. McKenna nails it: “Small-town thinking applied to big-world problems.”

“Here for Canada” indeed.