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Feds finding more money for green infrastucture plans

It’s mired in red ink and its carbon tax plan may be dead in the water – Ontario has scrapped cap-and-trade, planning legal action for any federal end run – but Ottawa is still finding money for green projects.

That’s a bit of a bonus for cash-strapped municipalities, though the cash is tied to ostensibly green projects that may not be the residents’ top priorities.

In the latest go-round, the federal government handed out millions this week for community infrastructure works through a trio of programs, the Green Municipal Fund (GMF), the Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program (MCIP), and the Municipal Asset Management Program (MAMP).

Given the changes at Queen’s Park, municipalities won’t be seeing such largesse from that quarter any time soon.

The funding priorities aren’t ideal, but every dollar has some merit to cash-strapped municipalities, which collectively account for some 60 per cent of the country’s public infrastructure. About of a third of that inventory is said to be in need of immediate repair or maintenance. That core infrastructure assets have an cumulative total worth of some $1.1 trillion, there’s a need for more than the tens of millions handed out this week for green projects, including a $5.75-million co-generation plan for the Region of Waterloo’s wastewater treatment plants.

The green funding is part of Ottawa’s focus on climate change. Local communities are said to influence about half of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, so municipal-level remediation is a target. For municipalities, mitigating climate change is a pragmatic decision, as extreme weather alone is expected to come with a $5-billion annual price tag by 2020.

Municipalities hope money for those and a long list of other infrastructure projects will come from the federal government. Ottawa has financial problems of its own, however. Queen’s Park, too, has maxed out the credit card, a key for Doug Ford’s Conservatives. Chances are slim we’ll see sizeable amounts of money coming from senior governments.

At the local level, municipalities have also spent their way into taxpayer fatigue. Waterloo Region is no exception, and the situation will only get worse with the light rail transit scheme. Woolwich and, more recently, Wellesley have been mindful of infrastructure needs, but its efforts have only scratched the surface while taxes have continued to rise.

Locally, tens of millions of dollars are needed in the short- to medium-term. Nationally, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) puts the infrastructure needs at the better part of $200 billion needed to repair or replace aging roads, water pipes and sewers.

The FCM, which represents some 1,900 members, has been pushing federal and provincial governments to address the deficit.

There’s been some action on the file, with senior governments sharing gas tax dollars, for instance, but the deficit still remains and municipalities want more help. They should indeed expect a bigger share of the revenues collected at the federal and provincial levels. In the past, looking to fix its fiscal situation, Ottawa downloaded costs to the provinces. In Ontario, particularly during the Harris years, the province in turn passed down the expense of many programs to the municipalities, with an inadequate share of the money to fund them. Over time, that decision put an increasing amount of strain on municipal budgets, and communities were hard-pressed to deal with immediate costs, let alone stockpile reserves for the replacement of aging infrastructure.

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