Opinion: Budget set to deliver infrastructure boost

The latest federal budget promises to improve living standards in communities across the country, in part by infusing billions of dollars into new infrastructure spending over the next five years.

By Michael Dimitriou

These investments range from green initiatives that will revitalize buildings and reduce energy use to putting more money into public transit and increasing access to affordable housing.

These initiatives are expected to translate into a boost to the economy by providing job opportunities to Canadians, directly and indirectly. Increasing spending on capital projects is a time-honoured tradition to support a faltering economy as well as reduce socio-economic inequities between haves and have-nots.

Construction companies and architectural and engineering firms will profit and so will their suppliers and employees. At the grassroots level, communities from First Nation reserves to urban neighbourhoods are expected to gain from the infrastructure programs.

With the National Capital Region home to a third of all federal buildings in Canada, Ottawa stands to directly benefit from the $2.1 billion promised to upgrade federal assets and buildings across Canada over the next five years. The $700 million earmarked for upgrades will represent a welcome uptick for the construction industry and the Ottawa economy overall as increased commercial activity is generated.

Ottawa assets will benefit from funding directed toward revamping museums, remediating sites and upgrading labs and other assets supporting innovation. For example, the budget sets $271 million aside for environmental remediation of contaminated federal sites and commits $139 million to labs and other federal assets that support science, research and innovation.

Also on the real estate side, the budget allocates $2.3 billion over two years to give Canadians greater access to affordable housing, including adding new affordable housing for seniors and retrofitting or renovating existing social housing. This funding could serve the capital city well in combination with the Ontario government’s plan to mandate that builders include a certain percentage of affordable homes in new developments.

Ottawa is also expected to hitch a ride on the $3.4 billion that will be added to the public transit infrastructure fund over three years. Since Ontario is the nation’s most populous province and boasts almost half of Canada’s transit users, some estimates predict the federal government could cover as much as 50 per cent of the cost of the next phase of Ottawa’s light rail plans.

The National Arts Centre will receive $14 million from the $281-million pot for local museums and arts facilities, with the Canada Science and Technology Museum getting $156 million.

The 2016 federal budget also allocated greater access to funding for municipalities that hasn’t been available at the provincial or municipal level through infrastructure projects promoting greener buildings – new energy-efficient windows and doors, for example – and for water and waste treatment technologies.

An $8.4-billion promise to improve the socio-economic conditions of indigenous peoples and their communities through infrastructure improvements will be felt in Ottawa, where many Aboriginal organizations are headquartered, as well as across Canada. A major portion of the funding, approximately $2.21 billion, will be directed towards ensuring reserves have potable water and efficient waste management systems, with more allocated to building roads and addressing housing needs.

Communities of all types across Canada will be impacted in many positive ways by the federal budget spending initiatives. With such substantial additional funding for waste-water treatment, national research programs, improved museums and arts facilities, light rail and building renovations, it appears Ottawa will benefit for many years to come.

Since infrastructure best practices are local in scope but national in focus, working with companies and firms that have national as well as regional knowledge and experience will be key to making the most out of the new budget.

Michael Dimitriou, CPA, CA, is a partner with accounting, tax and business consulting firm MNP LLP’s Ottawa office. You can reach him at 613-691-4242.