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Gas tax agreement aims at infrastructure projects

The federal and provincial governments delivered one of the first components of a stimulus package this week, announcing a major investment in municipal infrastructure.

On Tuesday, Ottawa and Queen’s Park signed off on an extension of the Gas Tax Fund agreement. Between 2010 and 2014, the federal government will hand Ontario municipalities $2.9 billion earmarked for municipal infrastructure projects.

The announcement follows weeks of pre-budget consultations by the federal and Ontario finance ministers. If the early reports of those consultations are any indication, more infrastructure-related announcements are in the offing.

Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht met with federal finance minister Jim Flaherty on Tuesday to relay the concerns of his constituents.

“I think the primary concern that we all have is that businesses that have been successful for many years are having a hard time finding credit,” Albrecht said in an interview. “That’s our major concern right now, that companies will have the ability to weather the storm.”

In addition to freeing up credit, the government is looking at ways to expedite infrastructure projects that are in the wings. In Woolwich and Wellesley townships, that includes the likes of repaving Arthur, Brubacher and Second streets in Elmira, and Steffler Road and Broadway Street in Hawksville. The townships have applied for funding for those projects under the communities component of Building Canada.

“There are infrastructure projects that have been on the books of some municipalities for some time,” Albrecht said. “Normally these take a fair bit of time until they’re finally rolled out. We’re hoping we can expedite that so we can get working at these fairly early in the spring.”

Infrastructure is also likely to rear its head in the 2009 Ontario budget.

Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Leeanna Pendergast is a member of the standing committee on finance and economic affairs, which wrapped up its pre-budget consultations Dec. 19. The committee heard more than 100 submissions from a wide range of delegates, including mayors, poverty groups and manufacturers.
The committee announced it heard from delegates the importance of poverty reduction, education and training and infrastructure investment.

In a riding that includes Kitchener Frame, which ceased production this week, the fate of the auto industry is another pressing issue. Albrecht said the problem extends beyond the auto sector.

“Kuntz Electroplating, for example, [which is] definitely auto-related with their chrome electroplating of rims and bumpers; there’s spin-off to parts manufacturers, there’s even spin-offs to the local economy, with restaurants. Everything’s going to be affected by this.”

Despite the challenges facing the local economy, Albrecht believes the area is well-positioned to cope with the economic turmoil.

“First of all I think Canada’s in a better position than other countries and the States, and secondly, our area, Kitchener-Conestoga and the entire Waterloo Region, is a well diversified area; I don’t believe we’ll be hit as severely. [But] that shouldn’t cause us to sit back and be smug, because we all need to work hard to minimize the impact.”

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