April 6th, 2022
Federal infrastructure funding needs to live up to the times.
By Bonita Zarrillo, April 6, 2022
With the growing number of climate events happening in communities, the federal government must be a more active partner in funding local infrastructure that can protect people and the economy now.
Just two years ago, there was a rush on toilet paper. Canadians were stocking up and supply chains could not meet demand. Fast forward to today: it is food prices that are the focus in the grocery store. Supply chains are hurting; droughts, floods, and wildfires have ravaged communities; and some of the most productive farmlands in North America are at risk. The devastating impacts of climate change are here.
In British Columbia, the recent floods exposed how dependent we are on public infrastructure for the free movement of goods. Not just to keep food prices down, but also for all the essentials that keep us and the economy running. Last fall, the inability to transport goods in and out of the Lower Mainland had a harrowing impact on people, businesses, and industry. As sections of major connector roads were washed away, bridges were destroyed, and dikes failed, we found ourselves in a situation where food and goods were unable to reach communities.
To fill the gap of failed infrastructure, endless volunteers, emergency services personnel, and brave community members stepped forward to shore up dikes, get people and livestock to safety, and to helicopter in food, water, medical supplies, and other essential items. Without the resiliency of community members, these devastating events, powered by climate change, would have meant greater losses.
These stories of communities losing so much to climate disasters are becoming too common. They highlight the urgency of upgrading and building resilient local infrastructure. Local governments are ready to do that work. They have been building resiliency into their communities for years, but their capacity to invest in the necessary infrastructure to mitigate and adapt to this changing climate cannot keep pace with the demand. With the growing number of climate events happening in communities, the federal government must be a more active partner in funding local infrastructure that can protect people and the economy now.
Across Canada, the past generation of public infrastructure is failing and in need of upgrading, and new infrastructure must be built to withstand today’s climate realities. Local governments are struggling to fund these competing priorities with their limited tax base. They rely on other levels of governments to assist through unpredictable grants, but what they really need is long-term, stable, and predictable investment from the federal government to build the next generation of resilient infrastructure.
The current infrastructure funding model is not working for communities. It is no longer appropriate for the federal government to allocate limited funds to local governments by quasi-lottery with no discernible reasoning for what is or is not approved. Under the current funding model, communities find themselves competing against each other for limited federal dollars through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program streams. This is particularly the case for the rural, northern, and Indigenous communities which have waited too long for safe housing, clean water, broadband, public transportation, and reliable roads. Rural, northern and Indigenous communities are further challenged with the complex and time-intensive application procedures of these programs that favour larger municipalities with greater resources.
The devastating impacts of climate change are here and while the federal government focuses on targets 10 and 20 years out, it is missing the other side of the equation: our local communities—people—are on the front lines of climate disasters now. Local governments need to be able to immediately strengthen their infrastructure to withstand the next climate event. To make that a reality, the federal government must modernize its programs, make them more equitable, and provide long-term, stable, and predictable funding to local governments.
In this age of increasing climate disasters, it is time for federal infrastructure funding to live up to the times.