Photo: Colin Dacre Matt Jeneroux, Helena Konanz
The federal Conservative party’s shadow minister for infrastructure, communities and urban affairs is swinging through the South Okanagan this week, meeting with representatives from local governments.
Edmonton Riverbend MP Matt Jeneroux and South Okanagan-West Kootenay candidate Helena Konanz met with the Town of Oliver Wednesday to discuss its headaches trying to secure funding for its crucial irrigation canal rerouting project.
The town has been lobbying the federal government for $5M since 2017 when the provincial government pledged the same amount to move the canal from a rockfall prone area near Gallagher Lake where it was damaged by a slide in 2016.
The nearly 100-year-old canal brings water to 1,400 hectares of farmland along its 17.4 kilometre route between Vaseux Lake and Hester Creek.
The project has more-or-less fallen through the cracks of the bureaucracy of the federal government, not fitting the correct criteria or dollar values for the wide variety of grant programs within various ministries.
Jeneroux says that’s typical of how infrastructure is funded by the federal government in Canada.
“The way that infrastructure has been funded for, quite frankly 30 years, it’s not a partisan comment, for 30 years infrastructure has been funded the same way,” he said Wednesday in an interview with Castanet. “Essentially right now, every municipality needs a grant writer with a PhD in grant writing to find these grants. That’s where Oliver is at.”
Jeneroux said his party hopes to streamline infrastructure funding for communities and make it more predictable for local governments. The roll of the dice that municipalities need to go through to get things funded baffles mayors and councillors, he said.
Using an example from her last term on city council, Konanz pointed to the second phase of the downtown revitalization project, for which Penticton expected to have Ottawa’s support.
“And then we didn’t get it, we didn’t get what we were going for,” she said. “It just turned out that year they were not giving money for downtown revitalization, we should have known they were working more on environmental projects.”
She said local governments “need a crystal ball” when trying to get projects funded.
Jeneroux wasn’t able to offer many details on how a Conservative government would change the system, noting they are aiming to have their infrastructure plan out by the end of May.
He did, however, point to the Canada Infrastructure Bank as a Liberal initiative that will be killed.
The Liberals promised the bank during the 2015 election. It wasn’t created until 2017, hoping to use $35 billion in federal funding to pry three to four times that from the private sector to pay for new infrastructure projects that are in the public interest.
But so far, the bank has signed a financing agreement for just one project — a $1.28-billion loan for an electric rail transit system in Montreal.
“It seemed like it had the possibility to work, and in typical I’ll be partisan, Liberal fashion, it’s just dragging its feet and dithering for the last four years,” Jeneroux said.
“Essentially getting the money out of Ottawa is what we want to focus on. We could argue in the next election, the Conservatives will have $190B infrastructure plan and then the Liberals will have a $191B. We can argue the dollar amount as high as you want to go.”
Konanz pointed to the Southern Interior Local Government Association convention underway in Penticton this week, “you could go down there and ask every single representative from those communities and they’d all say the same thing. Their infrastructure — they are baffled on what to do with it.”
Jeneroux is scheduled to meet with the City of Penticton Thursday.
Konanz will be running for election against NDP incumbent Richard Cannings and Liberal candidate Connie Denesiuk.