By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
Communities are more than just the sum of the people who live there. Within each community, there is the infrastructure that is vital to creating a sense of community, a sense of home. In almost all cases, it comes down to public facilities.
These facilities can be owned by the government, usually municipal, or by not-for-profit groups established to care for them. They are usually run by a board of volunteers, who give their time to ensure that these facilities remain viable and available. Not only do they care for the facility, but also organize events to make sure it’s used. In small towns, these halls, arenas, community centres and performance venues are a vital meeting place for community events, both the serious and the fun.
In the 1950s, more than 3 percent of Canada’s GDP was spent on infrastructure, much of what we still use today dates to that era. In the decades that followed, spending fell to just 0.4 percent of GDP. In 2015, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimated that the infrastructure deficit, the money needed to fund the repair and replacement of the country’s existing stock, never mind new projects, was $200 billion. When Justin Trudeau was first elected Prime Minister in 2015, his campaign included a heavy focus on infrastructure — doubling the investment to $125 billion over 10 years and appointing a minister to a newly created, stand-alone portfolio. By 2019, the Investing in Canada plan had approved more than 48,000 projects, under five main funding streams: public transit, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, trade and transport and rural and northern communities. By 2019, the program had grown to over $180 billion, with $92.2 billion coming from existing programs and another $93 billion in new funding.
When most of us think of infrastructure, we think of roads, bridges, public transit, water and sewer systems. While these account for a lot of infrastructure spending, community buildings also fall into this category. The federal government plans to spend $25.3 billion on affordable housing, child care spaces and cultural and recreation centres. This funding is much needed, as many of these buildings haven’t received major investments since they were first constructed. In the intervening years, costs have gone up and there are now fewer rural residents to shoulder the financial burden.
While the availability of cash infusions is a welcome prospect for the groups that run our community buildings, for many of them, it’s not what they really need. What they really need is people. They need people to come out and make use of the facilities they work so hard to maintain. They need people to show up to events. They need people to sit on boards and committees, to bring forward new ideas and enthusiasm. They need people to recognize that these facilities are more than stone and wood and windows, they are the community’s heartbeat. If we don’t use them, we will lose them.