Rock to Road

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City mayors urge federal spending


January 22, 2010
By Andy Bateman

January 22,
2010 -Canada's
big city mayors are urging the federal government to keep billions of dollars
in infrastructure money flowing as the country enters a new era of restraint,
the star.com reported yesterday.

“They want
Ottawa to extend the $4-billion federal infrastructure stimulus fund for at
least six months past the current March 2011 deadline — and consider more
funding even as it looks to save money elsewhere.

They're also
urging the government to resist the urge to cut other programs — including the
gas tax fund and GST rebates — that help municipalities build and repair roads,
bridges, sewer systems and other infrastructure.

The mayors
argue that spending on infrastructure will actually help the government erase
the $56-billion deficit racked up since last year's recession, creating jobs,
spurring economic growth and generating revenue to fill depleted federal
coffers.

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“The best way
to fight federal deficits is to have people working and paying income and sales
taxes,” said Toronto Mayor David Miller.

Infrastructure
projects to improve things like public transit not only create constructions
jobs, he said, they help foster a more positive, productive environment for
business, “which in itself creates jobs.”

Without
continued joint investments in infrastructure by federal, provincial and
municipal governments, Miller predicted: “Canada won't succeed, the economy
won't succeed.”

Regina Mayor
Pat Fiacco agreed that infrastructure funding “more than pays for itself” and
must not be sacrificed on the altar of restraint.

He's
organizing a national summit in Regina
early next year involving all three levels of government. The aim is to come up
with a 20-year plan for funding infrastructure improvements.

“We have to agree
on a plan,” Fiacco said. “The federal government is going to look at ways in
which they're going to control their spending over the next number of years.
That can't be at the expense of reducing the quality of life in Canada for
Canadians.””

The mayors
made their pitch as federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is preparing to
unveil a budget on March 4. Among other things, the budget will launch a review
program to identify spending that can be cut as the government attempts to
return to balanced books.

Flaherty has
been insistent that the binge of stimulus spending — launched in last year's
budget as part of a temporary, two-year plan to see the country through a deep
global recession — will not continue past March 2011.

However, the
mayors said many infrastructure projects can't be finished by the deadline.
That's particularly true in smaller municipalities, which took longer to get
projects off the ground due to a scarcity of contractors and matching funds.

Fiacco said
mayors want the deadline extended to October 2011 or even December of 2011. He
said federal officials have not categorically rejected the idea.