Applications Open for Natural Gas Grant Program

The government is now accepting applications for a natural gas infrastructure program. The Natural Gas Grant Program, operated by Infrastructure Ontario, is providing grants to help fund the building of new natural gas infrastructure projects in municipalities, First Nations, and unincorporated territories. The program is accepting applications under two separate streams:

  1. The Expansion Stream is for projects that help convert primarily residential connections into natural gas.
  2. The Economic Development Stream is for projects that convert mostly business connection to natural gas, specifically those that help agri-businesses, rural Ontario, First Nations communities or unincorporated areas.

Find out more about this program here. Applications will be accepted until July 31st, 2017.

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Federal Government’s Infrastructure Program Lacks Planning, according to Senate Report

According to a new report released this week by the Senate Committee on National Finance, the federal government has not developed a coherent strategic plan for the billions of dollars it intends to spend on infrastructure. The committee has been studying the government’s infrastructure program since February of 2016, hearing from 34 witnesses at more than fifteen meetings.

Key findings from the report include:

  • the Government of Canada (GoC) has not developed a strategic infrastructure plan
  • There are numerous infrastructure support programs across 31 different government ministries and agencies, each with its own priorities, terms and conditions, timelines and reporting requirements. This administrative burden is complex, poorly coordinated, and potentially duplicative
  • A single-window approach, similar to the Gas Tax Fund, would be more suitable for providing funding for municipalities
  • Local government’s have raised a number of concerns with the current application-based programs
  • Municipalities, themselves, are best placed to determine their own infrastructure needs
  • The current program excludes trade infrastructure, which is crucial for encouraging trade and stimulating productivity.

Read the full report here.

 

Event: Climate Risk Management Strategies for Municipalities

The Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance is hosting an event on how municipalities can better prepare themselves for extreme weather as the global climate shifts. See below for a full description of the event, which will be held in Toronto on February 28, 2017. Register here.

Tackling the Storm out of the Norm: Climate Risk Management Strategies for Canadian Cities

Description

Severe thunderstorms, flooding, hail and icestorms, and blizzards increasingly threaten Canadian cities. As the global climate shifts, Canadian cities face significant and costly risks from extreme weather. These costs are enhanced in cities because they have large, dense populations, valuable and geographically concentrated property, and complex infrastructure networks. What tools are available to local governments seeking to share the growing risks associated with a changing climate with other levels of government and non-governmental actors?

This talk is the first in a series of IMFG publications and events on climate change and Canadian cities.

About the Speakers

Daniel Henstra is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo. His research centres on public administration and public policy, with a focus on emergency management, climate adaptation, and flood risk governance. Within these subject areas, he investigates multilevel policy processes involving federal, provincial, and municipal governments, and the complex, networked relationships among elected officials, public servants, stakeholders, and the public.

Jason Thistlethwaite is Assistant Professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED) at the University of Waterloo. His research focuses on the financial risks of climate change, natural disasters, and extreme weather. His recent work explores the role of insurance and government risk management in promoting climate change adaptation and reducing economic vulnerability at the local level.

Province Announces New Natural Gas Grant Program

The government of Ontario has announced a new natural gas grant program, that will provide $100 million in funding to expand natural gas into communities that do not currently have service. However, despite announcing this program at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Conference yesterday, it will not begin to accept applications until the spring of 2017. The program will replace a previously-announced, but yet-to-be-implemented, natural gas loan program that would have allocated $200 million for same purpose.

For more:

News Release: Expanding Natural Gas to More Communities Across Ontario 

Province Rejects Toronto’s Road Toll Proposal

Today the Government of Ontario announced that it won’t approve the City of Toronto’s plan to use road tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway. The City’s plan was designed to generate additional revenue, control gridlock, and fund transit.

According to the Premier, “the conditions are not right” for road tolls. As an alternative, the province also announced today that it would increase gas tax funding for municipalities. However, City of Toronto Mayor John Tory says that the gas tax increase will not replace the revenue that would have been generated by the City’s proposed road tolls. While increased gas tax funding will net the City an addition $170 million per year, road tolls were expected to generate $200 million.

Tory Tolls.jpg

For more:

CBC, “Premier Kathleen Wynne rejects Toronto’s request for tolls on DVP, Gardiner” 

CBC, “Mayor John Tory says added gas tax share isn’t enough” 

Funding Available for Rural/Remote Broadband

The federal government’s new Connect to Innovate program is offering funding to bring high-speed Internet to rural and remote communities across Canada. The program, operated by Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada, is planning to invest up to $500 million in broadband projects across the country. Project funding will focus on building new backbone infrastructure in communities to provide connections to public sector institutions, like schools, hospitals and libraries, as well as providing funding for “last-mile” infrastructure projects to households and businesses. Applications will open on January 16th, 2017 and close on March 13th.

Find out more about this program here.

Auditor General Releases Annual Report

Yesterday Ontario Auditor General (AG) Bonnie Lysyk released her 2016 annual report. According to the AG the theme of this year’s report is government contractor’s and suppliers being rewarded with additional business despite poor performance. The report, which covers two full volumes and 1,063 pages, highlights crumbling highways, shoddy transit contractors, the eHealth medical records program, and cap-and-trade. Key findings from the report include:

  • More than $1 billion is being spent annually on employment programs without sufficient information about where more skilled workers are needed
  • Below standard asphalt being used on major highways, leading to premature repairs
  • Approximately $8 billion spent on the eHealth program and other electronic medical records programs over the past 14 years, despite unsatisfactory results
  • The potential that Ontario’s cap-and-trade program will do more to reduce emissions in California than in Ontario
  • Insufficient oversight of physical billing
  • A two-thirds increase in government advertising
  • Youth mental health agencies facing a deluge of 50% more cases of hospitalization in recent years, without an analysis being done by the government about the causes
  • An increase of 21% in the number of mental health cases in hospital emergency rooms
  • Patients waiting 37 hours in emergency wards for hospital beds and 23 hours for intensive care beds

For more:

Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, 2016 Annual Report 

Think Tank Calling for Targeted Funding for Economic Development in Ontario’s North

The Northern Policy Institute (NPI) is calling on the government of Ontario to introduce new targeted economic development stimulus spending for northern Ontario.  According to NPI, northern Ontario is facing unique economic challenges, including labour shortages, and chronic underfunding of road infrastructure and information and communications technologies. They argue that region’s economic future depends on the province’s ability to introduce measures that will improve northern infrastructure and attract immigrants.

For more:

iPolitics: Northern Ontario think tank calls for regional stimulus from Queen’s Park 

Fall Economic Update Includes Increased Funding for Infrastructure

The federal government’s fall economic statement, announced this week by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, included an even greater focus on infrastructure spending than the spring budget. Specifically the fall economic update included the following new announcements:

  • The $48-billion initially allocated for Phase 2 infrastructure spending will be increased to $81 billion over 11 years
  • $2 billion of funding dedicated to support the infrastructure needs of northern, remote and rural communities
  • A promise of setting up a Canada Infrastructure Bank with seed capital of $35 billion ($15 billion will be taken from the $60 billion of existing funds set aside for infrastructure projects, while another $20 billion will financed and recorded as equity/debt so as not to negatively affect the government’s balance sheet)
  • The government will also include an Invest in Canada Hub to attract foreign investment

The economic statement was greeted positively by a number of stakeholders in the municipal sector. FCM President Clark Somerville noted:

These unprecedented infrastructure investments will mean more growth, more jobs and stronger communities….Municipalities are ready to partner with this government to deliver truly transformative returns on this investment for all Canadians.

 

As part of the economic update the Minister of Finance also announced that federal government’s deficit for 2016-17 is projected to be $25.1 billion, which will shrink over the next five years to $14.6 billion by 2012-2022. Over those five years the government will add a total of $31.8 billion more to deficits than was announced in the last budget.

fall-update

Other highlights from the economic update include:

  • The government will adopt a global skills strategy that will speed up work permits and visas for foreign workers
  • The parliamentary budget officer will become accountable only to Parliament,  rather than the Library of Parliament
  • The chief statistician will be granted greater independence
  • The House of Commons’ board of internal economy, which adjudicates disputes, sets office budgets and polices the expenses of MPs, will now conduct its business in public

You can read the full fall economic update here.

Government Reviewing Ontario’s Building Code

The province is reviewing Ontario’s Building Code, and looking for input from the public and industry stakeholders on the changes that are being considered. The first phase of this review, which is taking place from October 21 to December 20, includes amendments that will support the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy update, as well as changes that would form the next version of the Building Code. The second round of changes will be focused on supporting the government’s Climate Change Action Plan.

Find out more about getting involved in this consultation here.

For more:

Overview of the proposed changes to Ontario’s Building Code 

Proposed technical Building Code changes 

Long-term Affordable Housing Strategy update 

Climate Change Action Plan