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The progressive potential of infrastructure spending

The new Liberal government has pledged to increase infrastructure spending by over $5 billion. This includes an additional $1.67 billion annually each in the areas of public transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure. There’s a real opportunity to get the most bang for our buck and have a long-lasting progressive impact, because spending in these areas can have significant environmental and social benefits.

While the Harper government increased infrastructure funding, the only strings they attached were ideological. Forcing municipalities to engage in public-private partnerships was costly and caused lengthy delays.

There was little to no funding to improve the environment and make the transformation to a low-carbon economy. And the funding had a gendered impact. Spending on traditional physical infrastructure largely generates private sector jobs for men, who make up 87 per cent of the construction industry workforce.

Infrastructure investments can and must have broad social and environmental benefits, both in terms of the services being delivered and their economic impacts. Infrastructure funding should be subject to a gender-based analysis, along with other government programs and initiatives. Increasing funding for social infrastructure – including affordable housing, child care centres, seniors’ facilities, transition homes, and cultural, recreational and community facilities – will be a positive step, as will public transit and green infrastructure investments.

Infrastructure investments can also be an important step in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. First Nation communities are in urgent need of vastly improved water and wastewater infrastructure, as well as better health, education and social infrastructure.

Public infrastructure should be publicly financed and delivered and the benefits from this economic activity should be shared equitably. The federal government can do this by attaching positive strings to federal infrastructure funding and contracts. These conditions can include setting living wages, mandating pay and employment equity, respecting labour rights and providing training and job opportunities for disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups.

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