Federal Government Announces Infrastructure Funding

Last week the federal government announced another 10 years of funding for the Building Canada Plan. The emphasis of the plan is to fund infrastructure projects such as bridges, roads and water and sewer infrastructure.

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Photo: Rob Huntley

The new $14 billion fund will be available to municipalities starting March 31, 2014. Of course this amount of funding will not come close to the amount needed to repair and improve municipal water and sewage infrastructure across our vast country. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that $14 billion is required right now to address the most urgent water and wastewater infrastructure projects across Canada. No one knows what percentage of the $14 billion from the Building Canada Plan will go towards infrastructure costs that will improve water protection – my guess is much less than half.

Ottawa Riverkeeper is extremely happy that Mayor Jim Watson and the City of Ottawa have made the Ottawa River Action Plan a priority and they will be applying for $65 million from the feds to significantly reduce the amount of untreated sewage going into the Ottawa River from combined sewers. The Province of Ontario and the City of Ottawa will be expected to contribute $65 million each if the project is to be approved by the feds.

Of course, the City of Ottawa is only one of many municipalities that dump untreated sewage into the Ottawa River. The next largest population lies in the City of Gatineau and we know that Gatineau is releasing untreated sewage into the river almost every time it rains. Ottawa Riverkeeper is appealing to Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin to make improving sewage infrastructure a priority for his city – they need to upgrade their wastewater treatment facility and find a solution to reduce sewage spilling from their numerous combined sewer outlets. We know the residents of Gatineau want to stop dumping untreated sewage in the same river where they draw drinking water, swim and fish.

We are fortunate that local MPs such as John Baird, David McGuinty and Paul Dewar are interested in improving the health and future of our Ottawa River. The Honourable John Baird has made the Ottawa River his local priority and has assured Ottawa Riverkeeper that he will push for and support infrastructure applications to reduce sewage dumping from the two largest cities on our river. His track record is good; he has already helped the City of Ottawa secure $33 million for phases 1 and 2 of the Ottawa River Action Plan.

The federal government alone cannot solve our sewage problems; they must have willing partners in the municipalities and provinces. Individuals and businesses also play a large role by carefully managing the pollutants that enter our city sewers. Although Ottawa Riverkeeper is an advocate for collaboration with the private sector to help protect our water, we would like to emphasize that we believe water infrastructure in Canada should be publicly owned and operated. In the new Building Canada Plan, projects with total eligible cost of more than $100 million are to be screened as potential public-private partnerships. Mayor Jim Watson is right to have concerns about the extra time and paperwork that would be involved in this screening stage. Ottawa Riverkeeper believes that water and wastewater projects should be excluded from P3 screenings. Our water is a shared resource that should be kept in public control. Municipalities are far more accountable to the public than private corporations and have a vested interest in conservation and protecting local water.

In summary, these new available funds in the Building Canada Plan pose a great opportunity and I hope all the municipalities in the Ottawa River Watershed will take this opportunity to invest in infrastructure that protects the water quality of our great river.

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