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Mayors push feds on infrastructure cash

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OTTAWA—The federal infrastructure minister says his government is willing to cut the strings on new infrastructure cash to help cities repair and build roads, bridges, sewers, and public transit facilities.

The Liberal government has been under pressure from big-city mayors to loosen restrictions on promised infrastructure dollars so that cities can spend the money where they feel they need it most.

Ottawa usually imposes multiple conditions on funding granted to cities and only gives out money for incurred project costs.

That doesn’t always help cities that want to spend federal funding on different aspects of a project, rather than a narrow window.

Infrastructure minister Amarjeet Sohi said the government wants to cut as many strings as possible from the billions in new funding while ensuring the spending meets long-term goals, such as economic growth.

The former Edmonton city councillor said the government wants to make its funding approach as flexible as possible to meet the needs of communities who know best where they need to spend money.

“They know better than me as a federal minister what their needs are,” Sohi said after meeting with the big-city mayors.

“So we need to have as few strings attached to the funding, keeping in mind the outcomes we want to achieve.”

The chairman of the big city’s mayor group, Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson, said flexibility in how to use the new federal funds is vital to getting projects built as soon as possible.

The 21 mayors who make up the big-city caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities are in the nation’s capital to lobby the Liberals as the government crafts rules for its ambitious infrastructure program.

They met with Sohi yesterday; they have a private meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today.

The Liberals have promised to spend an additional $60 billion on infrastructure over the next decade, with $5.1 billion of the new money to be doled out this coming fiscal year.

The extra money is supposed to be spread equally to public transit projects, “green” infrastructure like wastewater facilities, and social infrastructure like affordable housing.

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