Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Chuck Strahl recently met with infrastructure, business, and transportation stakeholders in Victoria to discuss ways to create jobs and economic growth, and to discuss plans for the next phase of Canada’s Economic Action Plan.
The Jan. 14 meeting was the second in a series of pre-budget roundtables taking place across the country over the coming weeks, and came a day after a similar event in Vancouver.
More than a dozen stakeholder groups were represented at the meeting at the Delta Victoria Hotel on the north shore of the city’s Inner Harbour. The group included representatives of key Victoria organizations who brought forward a strong regional perspective, as well as provincial and national organizations.
“Our government recognizes the value of a modern and sustainable infrastructure and transportation systems, and the economic opportunities they provide. We are committed to work with our stakeholders to identify cost-effective approaches that ensure Canada’s cities remain among the best places in the world to live,” Strahl said in a statement released prior to the discussion.
“The economy remains our number-one priority and we will continue to focus on creating jobs for workers, retirement savings for seniors, and the financial security of all Canadian families.”
Meeting with reporters after the roundtable discussion, Strahl was asked to comment on a number of challenges facing Greater Victoria, including a rail component for the new Johnson Street Bridge, a runway extension at Victoria International Airport, and the retirement of the region’s diesel buses in favour of ones powered by hybrid technology.
When asked by Douglas to comment on what was said in the discussion about commuter gridlock on the stretch of Highway 1 between Victoria and the Western Communities, and whether the federal government would contribute to any solutions to ease congestion, Strahl was noncommittal.
“People understand the need, and I am becoming convinced more and more of the need, for a long-term plan for infrastructure needs in these communities,” he said. “If you get into an electoral cycle, it’s two or three years long, maybe even four years long, but that doesn’t meet the long-term planning needs of local communities. They typically have a community plan that stretches out 20, 25 years. They know where people are going to be living and building and where the expansion opportunities, and crises, are, and so I think long-term planning is a key part of it.”
Strahl added that it’s up to the provincial government to take the lead on working with municipalities to come up with effective planning and solutions.
“We’re just a funding agent,” he said of the federal government’s role. “We fund a part of these infrastructure projects. Highways, overpasses, and so on are provincial priorities. The provincial governments have to set those priorities.
“I’m convincied long-term planning would help federal, provincial and local governments have a better idea of what they can and cannot do and would help guide decisions [such as] do we put another subdivision over in Langford or not? [Those decisions] would be based in part on can we get the people efficiently moving on transportation corridors from here to there. But a lot of it is provincially driven.”
Strahl said Canada’s Economic Action Plan has been both a boon and a challenge to communities that have had to dig deep to pay for ambitious infrastructure projects.
“They feel a little tapped out right now. They’ve had to match these funds and they don’t have an infinitely deep pocket, and neither do we federally,” he said.
“We have a big deficit. We’re borrowing money to fund that infrastructure in the interim. We need to move back toward balanced budgets. What [municipalities] are looking for is long-term planning. That’s the biggest single thing I heard around the table both here and in Vancouver. They’re onto something there. It’s the predictability as well as the dollars that allow local governments to make their planning effective.”
Over the next few weeks, Strahl will be travelling the country, hosting a series of pre-budget roundtables where he will hear from Canada’s infrastructure and transportation stakeholders on their views about how to continue to improve the competitiveness of Canada’s economy.