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Squamish to explore federal budget opportunities

Mamquam Channel dredging a possibility but district short of matching cash



Squamish is trying to wash its cash-strapped hands in the slow flow of federal funding announced in the Conservative budget - but three weeks after the budget speech, optimism is hamstrung by cost sharing realities and the larger economic picture.

"I don't think people really understand how bad it's getting," said Councillor Rob Kirkham, chair of the finance committee.

Councillors and the mayor are singing the same song as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). The infrastructure component of the budget, valued at $4 billion over the next two years, is considered a positive step. But the feds are only offering to pay for up to 50 per cent of a project. And that means cost sharing, to say nothing of an application process that further delays the much-needed punching of clocks.

"No municipalities in Canada have any money," continued Kirkham. "It'll be delayed because of an application process, and it just means the municipalities will get in more debt to fund these projects."

Councillor Paul Lalli, chair of the economic development committee, is looking forward to analyzing budget opportunities. "I think the announcement is timely," he said. "The federal government made the right decision investing back into communities. The infrastructure funding they announced will be desperately needed to put people back to work."

But Lalli agreed the cost sharing requirements are an unfortunate burden.

"That is obviously a concern," he said. "Times are tough."
Mayor Greg Gardner said council is in a position to borrow funds for projects. A potential infrastructure project, should it meet expectations, is the dredging of the Mamquam Blind Channel. Because of fish habitats, there are two times of year when the channel can be dredged, February or August and September.

"That's been a priority of the District of Squamish council for some time," said Gardner. "And we are reviewing the (federal) budget in that context to see if there's a funding avenue in there. And we're hopeful that there is something. It appears unlikely that we will meet this first window."

Gardner has been playing phone tag with West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country MP John Weston. Throughout the last election, and during the run up to budget, Weston, a Conservative, positioned himself as a sound candidate thanks to his proximity to the powers of cabinet. As the budget was being prepared amid a highly toxic atmosphere on Parliament, Weston called mayors in his riding to talk about certain projects with them.

"I hasten to add that as a new Member of Parliament, I can't guarantee we'll bring home these infrastructure projects," he told Pique in January. "But at least I'm doing my job articulating these needs to the minister."