BC Ferries will be eligible for federal grant

News that BC Ferries will become eligible for infrastructure funding through the federal New Building Canada Fund is being met with a positive reaction by NDP MPs and the provincial infrastructure minister.

On April 22, one month after Budget 2016 was presented to Canadians, federal Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi wrote to his provincial and territorial counterparts to continue the discussions that will lead to the signature of bilateral agreements, allowing infrastructure funding to be transferred to provinces and territories under the new programs, according to the ministry website.

In his letter to B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone, Sohi writes: “The 2016 budget announced an infrastructure plan that commits to smart, strategic investments that will grow Canada’s economy and improve the lives of Canadians. Our plan will focus on accelerating federal investments in the short term by providing funding for projects that rehabilitate and modernize public infrastructure. We will achieve this by working collaboratively with you and our municipal partners who are best placed to quickly identify their priorities for funding. We will flow funds rapidly to ensure that projects can begin immediately. We will also work in close partnership to reduce unnecessary administrative burden and streamline approvals.

“The Government of Canada has introduced the $3.4 billion Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF) and the $2 billion Clean Water Wastewater Fund (CWWF) to encourage economic growth and support sustainable, livable communities. Under these programs, we would like to encourage a focus on projects that promote innovation, optimization and rehabilitation of existing assets.”

Sohi told the provincial ministers that the federal government has improved the 2014 New Building Canada Fund “to provide provinces and territories greater flexibility to commit all remaining funding within the next two years.” One of the changes under the Provincial Territorial Infrastructure Component is to add five new categories: tourism, culture, recreation, passenger ferries services infrastructure, and civic assets and municipal buildings.

New Democrats are glad to see their proposed changes included in the federal government’s announcement regarding the New Building Canada Fund.

New Democrat MPs from B.C. campaigned on changing the eligibility criteria to allow BC Ferries to seek funding for infrastructure, terminals, fleet upgrades and new vessels.

“We’re glad to see the government finally listened to New Democrats’ calls to make ferry systems eligible for infrastructure funding,” North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney, who is the NDP Deputy Critic for Infrastructure and Communities, said in a press release. “They are a crucial part of regional transportation networks.”

In December, Blaney, along with Murray Rankin (Victoria), Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley), Randall Garrison (Esquimalt-Saanish-Sooke), Gord Johns (Courtenay-Alberni), Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford) and Sheila Malcolmson (Nanaimo-Ladysmith) co-signed a letter to Sohi asking him to make the necessary changes to the New Building Canada Fund.

“We believe that enabling Federal infrastructure funding from the Fund will help reduce [funding] costs and enable savings to be passed on to ferry users,” they wrote.

In her press release, Blaney said that Sohi’s announcement fails to mention that the Liberals have come up far short of their promised funding for infrastructure to the tune of more than $3.4 billion in the first two years alone.

Provincial Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone was also happy to see BC Ferries included in the New Building Canada Fund.

“I’m pleased to share that the federal government has confirmed to us that they are expanding the criteria to access federal infrastructure funding and will allow BC Ferries to apply for funding to cover BC Ferry infrastructure,” he said in an April 25 statement. “This is truly great news for British Columbia. Our coastal and inland ferry systems are a critical social and commercial link for citizens, families and businesses in many B.C. communities. I’m pleased to see that our federal colleagues are sharing in our vision of an affordable and sustainable ferry system. With this funding, BC Ferries will be able to stretch their investment further, which will help us keep ferry rates affordable.”