The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance
Federal infrastructure money remains unspent: Senate report
June 17, 2016
Ottawa - The federal government has yet to spend a nickel of its $11.8-billion infrastructure budget, senators revealed in a report tabled Wednesday.
To ensure Canadians’ money is spent wisely, members of the Senate Committee on National Finance scrutinized the government’s Supplementary Estimates (A), 2016-17, which sought Parliament’s approval to spend an additional $6.98 billion. It is the largest supplementary estimates in years.
The committee’s study focussed on $5.47 billion requested by ten federal departments.
Budget 2016 outlined the government’s plan to spend $11.8 billion over five years for Phase I of its infrastructure plan. In the Supplementary Estimates (A), Infrastructure Canada requested approximately $1.3 billion for public transit, water and wastewater, climate change and asset management funds. But to begin approving projects and releasing funds, Infrastructure Canada must first develop agreements with provinces, territories and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
No agreements have been reached and thus no funds have been spent, the committee heard.
Senators also questioned whether Health Canada is making sufficient strides to address risks to health infrastructure on First Nations reserves. The department supports about 500 health facilities on reserves, but some are 40 to 50 years old and others cannot meet increased demand. Senators also worry about Health Canada’s ability to recruit and retain nurses in remote First Nations communities.
The committee reiterated concerns that a lack of detailed information in the estimates documents makes it difficult to provide meaningful oversight. A single, integrated budget would provide clearer information to Parliament and to Canadians.
- Between May 19, 2016 and June 1, 2016, the committee heard from: Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat; Infrastructure Canada; Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada; Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation; Canadian Air Transport Security Authority; Public Services and Procurement Canada; Shared Services Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada; Health Canada; and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
- The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority told the committee that rising passenger volume and increases in screening contractor’s billing could lead to a significant spike in passenger wait times.
- Shared Services Canada’s efforts to modernize government information technology infrastructure continues to flounder. It requested an additional $271.5 million — a nearly 20% increase — as it continues to spend money maintaining “legacy” IT infrastructure.
“56% of the funds requested in Supplementary Estimates (A), 2016-17 relate to infrastructure pledges outlined in Budget 2016. This $3.9 billion will be spread throughout 27 government organizations, making it very challenging for parliamentarians to follow closely, both from a delivery and results perspective.”
- Senator Larry Smith, Chair of the committee
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