Mayors seek quick access to $60-B federal fund

The country’s big city mayors concluded their day-long working session Thursday with assurances Ottawa will provide cities with the cash they need to fix crumbling infrastructure.

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Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi told reporters that Ottawa wants to get cash into municipal hands as quickly as possible and allow local leaders to decide which projects will be funded.

"Our goal is to provide sustainable and predictable funding to municipalities," Sohi said following his meeting with the mayors from the country’s 21 largest communities. "The City of Winnipeg will get its share and that share will come very soon."

The mayors met for two hours with Sohi Thursday afternoon, clearing up any misunderstanding over how Ottawa will allocate $120 billion for infrastructure projects over the next 10 years.

The new Liberal government vowed in its March budget to provide municipalities an additional $60 billion for infrastructure, in addition to the $60 billion already committed by the former Harper government.

Ottawa will allocate those funds in two phases: $11.9 billion to be spent on projects over the next two to five years; with the remaining funds to be allocated in the remaining five years.

What Sohi told the mayors during the closed door meeting was good news for Mayor Brian Bowman.

"What we wanted to hear is that there is going to be flexibility," Bowman said. "The federal government is going to continue discussions and we were able to start that dialogue today. We’re looking forward to having additional conversations in the coming weeks."

The Big City Mayors' Caucus (BCMC) is the prelude to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference, which runs Friday to Sunday at the RBC Convention Centre. The mayors spent the day behind closed doors discussing partnerships between all levels of government and First Nations in tackling a variety of issues, including economic development, housing, infrastructure, and environmental protection.

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