Federal budget gives $2 billion to infrastructure

Seventy per cent of the money set aside for deferred maintenance and repair projects at Canadian universities

The 2009 Federal Budget has allocated money for deferred maintenance projects at Canadian universities. Queen’s has a deferred maintenance backlog of about $145 million.
The 2009 Federal Budget has allocated money for deferred maintenance projects at Canadian universities. Queen’s has a deferred maintenance backlog of about $145 million.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented a 2009 Federal Budget this past Tuesday that includes up to $2 billion in new infrastructure funds for Canada’s post-secondary institutions.

According to the budget, 70 per cent of the money will be set aside for deferred maintenance and repair projects at universities. The other 30 per cent will go to colleges.

Projects will be evaluated on “merit and readiness,” with preference given to those that can “improve the quality of research and development at the institution.” In addition, federal funds will cover no more than half of any project’s costs, with an equal amount of funds to be provided by other partners, such as the provincial government.

Provincial Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the province is preparing to match the federal government’s investments in Ontario’s infrastructure with an estimated $5.4 billion over the next two years. Final numbers will be released in the 2009 Ontario Budget when it is presented at the end of February.

Queen’s has a deferred maintenance backlog of about $145 million. According to the Canadian Association of University Business Officers, Canadian universities have a combined deferred maintenance backlog of more than $5 billion, about half of which is considered urgent.

Sean Conway, acting vice-principal (advancement) and special advisor to Principal Tom Williams on external relations, said the University is pleased with the new infrastructure funds but is still waiting to hear details on how the money will be allocated.

“We are this week talking to officials at Industry Canada to find out specific criteria for the distribution of this money. We don’t yet know what the process will be.”

Conway said the University has already requested government funding for the Tett Centre on the Kingston waterfront.

“We have asked the governments of Canada and Ontario for $15 million each to help us build the performing arts campus on the Kingston waterfront,” he said. “Alfred Bader has promised a substantial amount of money if it can be matched by the government. The city of Kingston has already committed $6 million.”

Conway said it’s too early to tell if the University can secure some of this new money for the Queen’s Centre.

“To some degree that will depend on the criteria the government establishes on this,” he said.

Industry Canada was unable to provide the Journal with any information on how the $2 billion will be allocated.

The budget also included $750 million for the Canada Foundation for Innovation to “support leading-edge research infrastructure,” $87.5 million over three years to temporarily expand the Canada Graduate Scholarships program and $3.5 million over two years to fund 600 graduate internships through the Industrial Research and Development Internship program.

Vice-Principal (Research) Kerry Rowe said the new money for the Canada Foundation for Innovation will likely benefit Queen’s.

“$150 million of that money will go to a competition for which we’ve already applied,” he said. “That increases our chances of getting more money here to Queen’s for research.”

Rowe expressed concern, though, that the stimulus monies for infrastructure could be delayed by government bureaucracy.

“I really wonder how the money will be out the door in time to make an impact on the economy,” he said. “Usually it would take two years for the federal and provincial government to move forward together on a project.”

Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) President Trevor Mayoh welcomed the additional funding but called on the federal government to do more for a struggling post-secondary

education system.

“We’re very appreciative of the money for infrastructure,” he said. “However, if the government of Canada truly wants to create the jobs of tomorrow then serious stimulus monies must be committed to enhance access to and persistence in higher education.”

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