Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach says progress is being made in obtaining fair and equitable access to federal infrastructure spending for Northwest B.C.
In a press release, Bachrach noted federal infrastructure spending in the Northwest is approximately three times the provincial average on a per capita basis.
“Overall, spending under the federal Investing in Canada Infrastructure Plan (ICIP) totalled $3,087 per person in the Northwest, almost triple the provincial average of $1,127, the release stated. Among BC’s 29 regional districts, North Coast, Stikine, Central Coast and Kitimat-Stikine Regional Districts all fall within the top ten in terms of federal infrastructure spending per person.”
Not everyone is buying the legitimacy of the per capita analysis, however.
Darcy Repen, who co-founded the Rural BC Party because he felt rural residents are not being effectively represented by the three major political parties, says it is misleading.
“He’s saying the NW is getting a great deal on infrastructure funding compared to other places, but it’s a super sketchy breakdown,” Repen said.
As an example, he noted $197 million identified in Bachrach’s release for the North Coast.
“Over $153 million of this funding is for three Prince Rupert area port projects,” he said. “Ironically, Prince Rupert’s ability to collect property taxes from the port is restricted by tax caps costing the City hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
“It’s bizarre. Why would an NDP MP want to lead his constituents to believe that the Liberals have been funding their infrastructure disproportionately well, when it’s not true?”
“That’s the same issue with all of the projects rurally. The $600 million spent on Hwy 1 in the Columbia region isn’t to benefit Golden residents, it’s to benefit interprovincial commercial trucking.”
Bachrach, however, stands by the analysis.
“I’m familiar with the critique,” he said. “I think there’s an aspect of that that’s absolutely legitimate to look at. The reality, though, is that these bigger projects have been supported by communities. If you look at the port project specifically, that’s something that my predecessor (Nathan Cullen) advocated very strongly for and it’s a project that supports a significant proportion of the population of Prince Rupert and is providing a lot of benefits.”
He also insists the release was not intended to be tacit approval of the Liberals’ performance.
“I have a lot of criticisms of the current government’s approach to infrastructure,” he said “(The press release) was more meant to celebrate the projects that community leaders in the Northwest have succeeded at getting underway. I think we can do both, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can celebrate the success when we have it and we can hold the government’s feet to the fire and demand more in the future and that’s what I’m going to do.”
In that regard, Bachrach cites federal auditor-general Karen Hogan’s report on the ICIP released March 25. The audit suggests the $188 billion fund is not being spent as quickly as promised and that the plan might not meet its objectives following its full 12-year life.
She also criticizes the transparency of the program noting “incomplete and inconsistent” reporting by ministries resulting in Infrastructure Canada being “unable to provide meaningful public reporting on the plan’s overall progress toward its expected results.”
Where Bachrach and Repen do agree, is on the point that infrastructure funding that directly benefits residents of northern communities is inadequate.
“There is still a huge need for reliable, consistent funding for core municipal infrastructure,” Bachrach said. “That’s something we continue to work on, it’s why the NDP has supported the doubling of the gas tax and those are unrestricted funds for local government infrastructure and it’s why I personally support the Resource Benefits Alliance, which is advocating for a greater share of revenues to make their way back to communities in the Northwest.”