June 1, 2020 / 8:11 PM / a month ago

Canada to fast-track C$2.2 billion for infrastructure to cash-strapped municipalities

FILE PHOTO: A Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) bus driver wears a mask while driving along Don Mills Road as the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases continue to grow in Toronto, Ontario, Canada April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s cash-strapped municipalities will receive C$2.2 billion ($1.62 billion) in fast-tracked federal infrastructure funding to help cover funding shortfalls in budgets battered during the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday.

The one-time payment will be delivered in June through the federal Gas Tax Fund, Trudeau told his daily press briefing. As of Monday, Canada had 91,351 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease cause by the novel coronavirus, and had reported 7,305 deaths, according to official data.

Municipalities will have flexibility to use the funding to meet local needs, including for projects like boosting access to high-speed broadband or improving roads and water systems, Trudeau said.

“From testing clinics to programs for seniors, cities and towns provide essential services, so it’s crucial that they have the resources they need,” he told reporters.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, a national lobby group, asked the federal government in April for C$10 billion to $15 billion in emergency funding over the next six months to help cover revenue drops and added costs from the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked about that request, Trudeau told reporters the C$2.2 billion in funding was “a start” and the federal government was working with the provinces to find more ways to help.

Many municipalities in Canada have deferred property taxes to help residents whose finances were hard hit by the crisis, and their other sources of revenue have declined during the lockdown.

British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province, said on Monday that it would halt evictions due to unpaid rent for businesses eligible for the federal rent relief program but whose landlords had failed to apply.

The move comes as the province reopens its economy, and will “(put) small businesses in the best position we can to come back and participate in the restart,” Carole James, the province’s finance minister, said.

Reporting by Kelsey Johnson and Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney

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