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Feds eyeing bigger share of tab

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SAINT ANDREWS, N.B.—Canada’s infrastructure minister says the federal government is considering changing the way it traditionally funds construction projects and pick up more of the tab.

Most infrastructure projects that receive federal funding require provinces and municipalities to pony up matching funds, splitting the costs three ways.

But Infrastructure minister Amarjeet Sohi says that could change given what he’s been hearing from provincial and local officials about “capacity gaps” that hinder making projects a reality.

“I don’t want to pre-suppose the outcomes of those discussions but we have heard from our partners about capacity issues,” Sohi noted.

He said the government will decide “whether we continue to be one-third partners or we come up with different way of increasing that support.”

Sohi added his department is trying to fast-track spending for approved projects that are waiting in the queue for federal dollars to help prod a sluggish economy.

He noted the department also is going to try to quickly approve projects that provinces put forward for funding just as soon as they give the government their funding wish lists.

“As quickly as we get the lists, we will start to review them,” Sohi said.

“Some of the projects are under review and some of the projects have already been signed off on,” he told reporters before heading into his first cabinet meeting of the year.

“I did sign off on a number of projects in the last couple of weeks, and there are other projects that we are currently reviewing because our goal is to get the money out into the communities.”

The money is supposed to be evenly split between “green” projects that have an environmental aspect, such as water or wastewater treatment facilities, “social” infrastructure like day cares and affordable housing, and public transit projects like light rail systems.

Insiders have told The Canadian Press the Liberals are “actively” considering speeding up delivery of the new infrastructure spending the government pledged in the election to help stimulate economic growth through 2016.

A slumping loonie, declining oil prices, and disappointing job numbers have combined to cast a shadow over the first federal cabinet meeting of 2016 that is taking place far away from Parliament Hill.

Finance minister Bill Morneau has been hearing concerns about the economy from Canadians during his pre-budget consultations and is expected to give his cabinet colleagues an update over the next 24 hours.

The federal budget is expected to be delivered in mid- to late-March.

The Liberals had vowed to run deficits of no more than $10 billion this year and next, but have since shifted to calling the figure a target.

Cabinet ministers will have a full day of meetings today before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a handful of minister travel overseas to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.

The retreat kicked off yesterday afternoon when a crowd of about 100 people—some holding signs welcome signs—greeted Trudeau upon his arrival.

Trudeau didn’t stop to speak to reporters on his way into a working dinner.

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