With the expiry of the Building Canada Plan in 2014, nearly 40 per cent of federal investments in our cities and communities will end. Without this capital, municipalities across the country will face tremendous challenges in planning for, and building, the infrastructure Canadians require to keep communities together, build businesses and compete globally.”

 By Graham Starmer, President and CEO |  The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce

Municipal infrastructure provides the foundations on which our economy rests. Small businesses need quality roads and bridges to deliver goods and services. Workers need fast, efficient public transit to connect them to jobs. And growing companies count on high-quality community services, from libraries to hockey rinks, to attract skilled workers. Yet today, those foundations which have not been subject to renewal or repair are buckling under the strain.

This has far reaching implications that will affect the future of our province for at least the next 25-30 years.

What does this mean for all of us?

For residents and businesses: this means crumbing roads & bridges, gridlock, overcrowded transit and failing water systems. For municipalities it means escalating repair costs; “planning-by-lottery” and lack of resiliency. For taxpayers, it means regressive tax squeeze and for Canada – it means losing ground to our global competition.

Each year, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce invites resolutions from our member chambers across the province which represents over 10,000 businesses – SMEs, self- employed, major corporations and non-profit organizations.

Each year, the resolutions coming to our desk are becoming more urgent citing the need for infrastructure in locations across the province, asking for a solution to this growing problem which includes economic growth in areas that are grossly under-serviced.

It is this very economic growth that fuels revenues to governments with which we fund our social, educational and healthcare programs and social programs, providing us with a globally envied quality of life and standard of living.

The Trickle-Down Effect

Hence it is in our individual and collective self-interests to adopt national, regional, provincial and municipal policies that ensure Canada is supported and benefits from a globally competitive economy.

This principle has already been acknowledged in a number of federal programs such as the Asia Pacific Gateway & Corridor Initiative; Federal Framework on Trade Gateways & Corridors; and the Border Crossing Program (e.g. Ambassador Bridge).

What is required now, is a national statement and commitment to investment in infrastructure in a manner that supports and enables Canada’s economic growth though a Long Term Infrastructure Program (LTIP).

Permanent Program

We are calling for the LTIP to be a permanent program supporting our national aspiration to re-build and strategically position Canada to seize economic growth opportunities creating jobs, career opportunities and wealth for Canadians, thereby generating revenues to governments to fund maintenance and enhancement of our social programs for all Canadians.

Long Term Predictable Funding for Municipalities

Federal funding for municipalities under the Gas Tax Program has been very helpful to begin addressing Canada’s municipal infrastructure deficit – the gap between need and available funding – which by some estimates hovers in the vicinity of $243 billion.

While this is an excellent step forward, it is insufficient to meet the growing municipal needs.

We understand that the federal government collects approximately $5 billion annually from its per litre 10 cent excise fuel tax on gasoline and 4 cent tax on diesel. Our recommendation is that the federal government transitions, over three years, the remaining portion of federal gas tax revenues dedicating to municipal infrastructure using the existing Gas Tax Agreement framework. At its current level, this would result in an additional $3 billion being allocated annually to Canadian municipalities.

Support Long-term Economic Growth Objective

This objective should reflect the obvious: a clear link between infrastructure investment and economic growth and quality of life.

In structuring the program, governments should seek to approve and promote those projects that best contribute to and support, local, provincial, regional and national economic growth and development opportunities.

Some of these priorities should include improvement to national trade-supporting infrastructures, including trade corridors, gateways, ports, airports, inland ports, rail terminals, border infrastructure crossings and seamless multi-modal transportation systems as well as civic projects such as universities and colleges, teaching facilities and highways and roads into remote areas.  This list is long.

Flexibility is required – Think and Plan Ahead

Federal infrastructure programs should be flexible and support the investment in the maintenance and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure assets to ensure that they remain effective throughout their design or extended life thereby deferring capital replacement costs. They should be reasonably simple in the paperwork realm and diminish the bureaucracy.

As well we are calling for investment in existing, new and strategic infrastructure which will promote economic growth.

Proactive Action Saves Money:  No more erratic funding

Long term, multi-year programs, coupled with early tendering and timely contract awards are efficient management tools which will save the public purse in project costs.

Erratic funding of capital programs result in higher capital costs for infrastructure. Since all purchases are based on supply and demand principles, prices for infrastructure materials and human resources are lower when capital plans are known and are multi-year.

Such conditions provide the design and construction industry with the certainty required to make prudent long-term personnel, equipment and material purchasing decisions.

Manitoba is an important Canadian gateway to global trade

That role can be further augmented by focusing on assets that enable Manitoba to enhance Canada’s global trade role. Investments in that regard include the following key areas which the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce fully supports.

CentrePort

There is a need for a continued focus on infrastructure (capital and regulatory) investments which support CentrePort Canada and enhances the Port’s ability to expand Canada’s first inland Port;

Port of Churchill

There needs to be full recognition by the Government of Canada that the Port of Churchill is Canada’s northern trade gateway to Russia/Eurasia and develop a strategy of infrastructure investment and trade gateway role development;

Corridors

We are calling on government to ensure strategic investments in trade enabling gateways and corridors are made across western Canada.

In Manitoba’s case those assets include: efficiency improvements to PTH #101 (Perimeter Highway); PTH #75 Western Canada’s southern trade gateway into the United States; Headingly, St. Norbert and the Morris by-pass and develop the Emerson border crossing.

Growth Partners – Grow Our Economy

As a first imperative, all governments should shift their over-riding fiscal policy focus away from simply generating revenues, to a shared and collective emphasis on growing the economy, to generating national wealth.

We need to more fully embrace the entrepreneurial skills of the communities of stakeholders, public and private, to develop economic investment and regulatory approaches which embrace the concepts of sustainable and environmentally responsible economic growth strategies.

The three levels of government should regard each other within their respective jurisdictional capacities as economic growth partners.

Governments should engage with the private investment community and seek its advice on the types of policy changes that would help promote additional interest in partnering with governments to help meet these future needs – with the growing urgency it requires.