New infrastructure funding included in budget 

Whistler needs money for Alta Lake Sewer; Squamish for Mamquam Blind Channel

Canada is going into the red as it puts $40 billion towards economic stimulus in its new budget - and some of that cash could reach the Sea to Sky corridor.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented the budget in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon. Calling it "Canada's economic action plan," he said the budget is the government's response to the "challenge of our time."

"Since last fall the global economic situation has deteriorated further and faster than anyone predicted," he said. "As the crisis emerged, our government took immediate action to ensure Canadian businesses get the finances they need to reinvest, grow and maintain jobs."

He said the government would endure a $34 billion deficit for the next fiscal year and $30 billion for the year after that - Canada's first deficits in a decade.

Part of the economic stimulus includes $4 billion for local and regional infrastructure projects. Local governments must put up some funding to be eligible for federal funds.

The government has already committed $33 billion for infrastructure through the Building Canada Plan, but the new funding will focus on projects that are ready to start construction.

That money could come in handy for Sea to Sky. Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed, speaking on Friday, Jan 23, before the budget was presented, said in an interview with Pique that Whistler could use money for the Alta Lake Sewer project, money that the municipality has already sought through the Building Canada Fund.

The project involves constructing a sewer collection system to 30 lots along the west side of Alta Lake. Tests have concluded that 60 per cent of septic systems are failing in the area and discharging untreated wastewater to private properties, ditches, and even into Alta Lake.

Melamed said he's "lost track of time" when trying to count the years the RMOW has spent trying to fund the project.

"Really, any infrastructure funding would be more than welcome," he said. "Typically the infrastructure grant programs will not allow applications from projects that have already been approved and budgeted. When you asked me the question I answered you straight without the caveat that there's little chance of realizing any of that revenue.

"It's an unfortunate policy and one that would bear revisiting."

John Weston, the MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky, said in a post-budget interview that he couldn't give specifics on which projects would get funding.

"This action plan produces envelopes, it doesn't address specific projects," he said. "I had discussions with Mayor Ken and (Squamish) Mayor Greg (Gardner) on specific projects that are high priority for Whistler and for Squamish."

The District of Squamish (DOS), too, could use the infrastructure money. Since 2001 it's been working on rewatering the upper area of Mamquam Blind Channel, a body of water that flooded its banks in 1921 and now empties into the Squamish River. Water stagnation has since been a factor in declining fish populations in the upper part of the channel.

Weston said that he's been working with Squamish council to get money to fix the channel.

"Certainly we're continuing to look for some $500,000 from the federal government which I believe will contribute to economic development and tourism in the Squamish area," he said.

Flaherty also announced new funding through Recreational Infrastructure Canada (RinC), a program that will provide $500 million over the next two years to build and renovate facilities such as hockey arenas and swimming pools.

Pemberton residents have long had a hunger for both. At a public meeting last June, many attendants informed council that they wanted to see a swimming pool or a hockey arena in town.

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy said in an interview that the village would look at opportunities provided by the program, but building these facilities is a question of money, and more specifically, who pays what.

"We need to understand the cost before whether we know we want it," he said. "Just because there's some money thrown at it, depends on if we need to come up with two-thirds of the funding.

"We have to understand what the cost is, and we have to understand what the operating cost is in the long term."

Among other announcements, Flaherty said the Economic Action Plan would create a two-year, $1 billion Community Adjustment Fund, something that the government hinted at before the budget was announced.

That fund supports economic diversification in areas hit hard by a decline in local industries.

When asked whether Whistler, a community that's been hit by lower business than normal this ski season, could benefit from this fund, Weston said the government hasn't yet worked out how the money will be distributed.

"We don't have details on how that's going to work," he said. "Certainly there is a community adjustment fund. I think more specifically there is a lot in the budget for tourism."

Indeed, he may be right. The government is also pledging $40 million to the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) to help market tourism and events such as the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Other features of the budget include a Home Renovation Tax Credit that people can use to make repairs to their homes and save Canadians up to $1,350 on their 2009 taxes and a First-time Homebuyers' Tax Credit that Flaherty said will save people up to $750 on buying a new home.

He also said that first-time homebuyers will be allowed to withdraw between $20,000 and $25,000 from their RRSP's to purchase or build a home.

The budget, however, has yet to be approved by the House of Commons. Every federal budget is a confidence vote. If the governing Conservatives lose the vote on the budget, that could trigger another election, or a coalition of the Liberals, Bloc and NDP could wind up governing Canada.

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