Economist Jack Mintz says Liberals should take time on infrastructure spending

A noted economist says the incoming Liberal government should slow its grand plan for billions in new infrastructure spending to make sure the money provides the most economic bang.

OTTAWA — A noted economist says the incoming Liberal government should slow its grand plan for billions in new infrastructure spending to make sure the money provides the most economic bang.

Jack Mintz says the infrastructure program should emphasize what he calls “productivity enhancing infrastructure,” such as roads, highways, rail lines and ports that can shorten commutes for workers in cities and more easily move products to foreign markets.

A federal government that stressed that type of spending, as opposed to “social infrastructure” as the Liberals have promised as well, would stimulate long-term economic growth, Mintz said.

“That’s where the emphasis should be,” he said at a Monday news conference on Parliament Hill. “Let’s move people, let’s move goods and have a stronger economy as a result.”

The Liberals have vowed to boost infrastructure spending by almost $17 billion over the next four years, financing the effort through three years of deficits. The majority of the new spending, $10.05 billion, is planned to happen in the next two years, with $6.9 billion earmarked for the last two years of the Liberal mandate.

The promise was a cornerstone of the Liberal campaign that won the party a majority government in last month’s federal election.

But despite what prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau said on the campaign trail, the country isn’t in a recession, Mintz said, which means the Liberals should take their time and slow the spending spree.

“We can take time,” Mintz said. “We don’t need infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy. We need infrastructure spending to grow the economy and I think we should make the right choices and take our time and do it properly.

“That would be a far better strategy to achieve, I think, what could be a really important growth strategy for the country in the next several years.”

Mintz said that idea should be one of the key conclusions from a series of three research papers released Monday by the University of Calgary’s school of public policy. The papers look at the state of the country’s infrastructure and how the federal government should help pay for its renewal.

The studies argue the federal government should get out of the business of funding small infrastructure projects directly and instead give more money directly to cities through provinces to spend on their infrastructure needs.

The researchers found that since 2002, more than half of the 8,000 projects that received matching funds from the federal government cost less than $1 million. About 1,000 of those projects were below $100,000 in value.

These small projects carry extra administrative costs that would be better directed to larger endeavours that may take more time to break ground, the researchers said. The papers also argue for giving block funding to provinces — and cities by extension — with some strings attached to make sure money is spent where it’s needed most.

The outgoing Conservatives were criticized for spending more money from its key infrastructure programs on projects in Tory-friendly ridings. That funding often came with a requirement for signs labelling the projects as part of the Conservative economic action plan.

Mintz said the federal government should not direct this block funding to specific projects and should create an arm’s-length agency to evaluate projects for their economic benefits. The current model could lead to political interference, with governments choosing projects that produce the most votes.

The group also argued that cities overseeing the majority of infrastructure in the country should charge user fees to pay for their upkeep.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Jayden Grubbe is one of three Rebels on the NHL Central Scouting players to watch list for the 2021 NHL Draft. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels seek consistency ahead of matchup with Hitmen

The Red Deer Rebels had to deal with a pang of regret… Continue reading

Quinn Mason died from an opioid overdose at the age of 23 in June 2020. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta mother whose son died from overdose advocates for ‘change’

It’s been about nine months since her son died from an overdose,… Continue reading

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday that the province was ready to move forward with Phase 2A and B in the coming weeks. (Photo by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
Majority of Albertans to receive first shot before June 30: Shandro

Shandro says all Albertans should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine by June 30

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

Alberta’s Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer spoke on Thursday by webinar to Red Deer Chamber of Commerce members. (Screenshot by Advocate staff).
Alberta’s economic diversification is already underway, says Jobs Minister

From the geothermal to the TV industry, new jobs will be created, said Doug Schweitzer

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Quebec Premier François Legault chairs a virtual news conference Thursday, March 4, 2021 in Montreal. The premiers from the left are: John Horgan, B.C.; Jason Kenney, Alberta; Scott Moe, Saskatchewan; Legault, Quebec; Brian Pallister, Manitoba; Doug Ford, Ontario; and Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

The Edmonton Law Courts building is shown on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. An Alberta pastor accused of holding Sunday services that violated COVID-19 rules is appealing his bail conditions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Jailed Alberta pastor should be able to lead services until his trial: lawyer

Jailed Alberta pastor should be able to lead services until his trial: lawyer

Seniors arrive for their COVID-19 vaccination at a clinic in Olympic Stadium in Montreal on March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Premiers blame Ottawa for delayed COVID-19 shots; Ontario pharmacies to offer jabs

Premiers blame Ottawa for delayed COVID-19 shots; Ontario pharmacies to offer jabs

Actors, clockwise from left, Luke Bilyk, Aislinn Paul, Alex Steeler, Melinda Shankar, Annie Clark, Jordan Todosey, Jahmil French and Munro Chambers from "Degrassi: The Next Generation," are shown at a screening event, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012, at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, N.J. Friends of French say he was a gifted 'true artist' who 'wanted to be great'THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/StarPix, Dave Allocca
Friends of Jahmil French say he was a gifted ‘true artist’ who ‘wanted to be great’

Friends of Jahmil French say he was a gifted ‘true artist’ who ‘wanted to be great’

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, rioters storm the Capitol, in Washington. At least 10 Ohioans have been charged in connection with the deadly insurrection at the U.S Capitol after being identified through social media and surveillance footage to the FBI. The group includes people linked to the Oath Keepers militia group who have been indicted on charges that they planned and coordinated with one another in the attack. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Capitol Police chief appeals for National Guard to stay

Capitol Police chief appeals for National Guard to stay

People gather on high ground and check for any sign of a tsunami near Whangarei, New Zealand, Friday, March 5, 2021. A powerful magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck in the ocean off the coast of New Zealand prompting thousands of people to evacuate and triggering tsunami warnings across the South Pacific. (Karena Cooper/New Zealand Herald via AP)
Powerful quake hits off New Zealand, prompting evacuations

Powerful quake hits off New Zealand, prompting evacuations

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 file photo, students discard food at the end of their lunch period as part of a lunch waste composting program at an elementary school in Connecticut. A United Nations report released on Thursday, March 4, 2021 estimates 17% of the food produced globally each year is wasted. That amounts to 931 million tons of food, or about double what researchers believed was being wasted a decade ago. And most of the waste — or 61% — happens in households, while food service accounts for 26% and retailers account for 13%. (Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP)
7% of food production globally wasted, UN report estimates

7% of food production globally wasted, UN report estimates

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wedneday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Efficacy figures of COVID-19 vaccines don’t tell the whole story: experts

Efficacy figures of COVID-19 vaccines don’t tell the whole story: experts

Most Read