Nova Scotia will get $828 million in federal infrastructure funding over the next 10 years under an agreement announced Tuesday that will see much of the money go to small, cash-strapped communities.
The province is the seventh province or territory to sign on to the $180-billion, 12-year Investing in Canada Plan.
Premier Stephen McNeil said the money would assist with water and sewer projects and other provincial priorities including the twinning of 100-series highways, the expansion of broadband internet in rural areas, and construction of a new art gallery in Halifax.
The money would also allow the province to help fund infrastructure projects in its 13 Mi’kmaq communities, including the cleanup of the Northern Pulp wastewater lagoons which sit on the property of the Pictou Landing First Nation, he said.
“We believe there is an important opportunity,” he said. “I made a commitment on behalf of the province that we would deal with the issue of Boat Harbour and this will allow us and the federal government to be part of that.”
Treasury Board President Scott Brison said the key for rural communities will be the flexibility of the funding formula, which is calculated to reduce their burden.
“The fact we are enabling smaller communities to attain up to 60 per cent of federal funding for their projects is a real game changer,” said Brison. “It’s going to make a difference for a lot of these communities that simply don’t have the tax base to raise the money.”
Officials said the municipal funding contribution could go as low as seven per cent of a project’s cost.
Geoff Stewart, president of the Nova Scotia Union of Municipalities, said the program would provide some relief for struggling towns and villages.
“Municipalities have been struggling for many years to try to maintain a level of service that is expected by the public. This announcement can only enhance the opportunities for better waste water treatment and water treatment.”
Reporters also asked McNeil whether there was any opportunity to help fund a Halifax stadium that might attract a potential CFL franchise.
McNeil downplayed the possibility, but said the province would look at all projects brought forward under the program.
“While this is a substantial amount of money the need is great in our province,” he said. “We need to make sure we address the issues that we have no choice but to do. Municipalities are mandated by law to deal with the water and sewer issues and we have to make sure those are our priority.”
McNeil said the long-term nature of the funding would help with planning for projects that will benefit the entire province. He said there would also be the opportunity to draw in private sector help.
Under the plan’s first phase, the federal government has approved nearly 3,500 projects across Canada worth $8.4 billion.