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Lots of announcements, but little money flows in federal stimulus

OTTAWA - Few shovels have hit the ground in urgent construction work the federal government promised four months ago to help goose Canada's ailing economy, a survey shows.

OTTAWA - Few shovels have hit the ground in urgent construction work the federal government promised four months ago to help goose Canada's ailing economy, a survey shows.

The Canadian Press examined a group key infrastructure projects, worth $462 million this year, that were outlined in January's deficit-laden federal budget.

The projects - mostly bridges, railways, border crossings and harbours - are all within federal jurisdiction. They do not require matching funds from the provinces and municipalities, which can often delay the start of work with tangles of red tape.

All work was to begin quickly to help rescue Canada's softening economy, providing "timely economic stimulus by creating jobs across Canada in the construction, engineering and manufacturing sectors as well as generating significant economic spinoff activity," say budget documents released four months ago Wednesday.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's economic blueprint emphasized that "measures to support the economy must begin within the next 120 days to be most effective."

But a sample of 12 of these federal projects across the country suggests little work is actually underway, even as several weeks' of good weather heralds the start of the construction season.

Two international bridges in Ontario border cities, for example, won't even see construction tenders go out until next month.

The Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia is slated for $13.5 million worth of federal funds, while the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie is to get $1 million.

The projects were announced in the Jan. 27 budget, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper reannounced the Blue Water project locally on March 20.

But Transport Canada spokeswoman Maryse Durette confirms no construction has begun and no money is flowing.

The budget also promised $212 million over 10 years for improvements to the Champlain Bridge in Montreal, and the project was reannounced locally May 20.

Durette says one contract has been signed and work began in April. But she declined to indicate the size of the contract or how many jobs are being created. About $30 million of work is slated for 2009-2010.

The federal government has promised to table an update on these and other stimulus projects next month in the House of Commons, which will include job-creation numbers.

A native-run railway in Manitoba, the Keewatin Railway Co., was promised $4.1 million over two years for upgrades, including construction of a station.

Although there's been some design work, the company's CFO Anthony Mayhem says: "We're still waiting for our first pot of cash to hit."

Between 12 and 14 construction jobs are expected to be created, as well as an unspecified number of additional construction jobs for a new station in Pukatawagan.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, another $3.8 million has been promised to native-run Tshiuetin Rail Transportation, operating a rail line through northern Quebec and Western Labrador.

A work camp was set up May 16 - but federal money has yet to flow, said a Transport Canada spokeswoman. Between 16 and 20 jobs are expected to be created.

The January budget also promised a total of $45 million for three border crossings in British Columbia: $25 million at Kingsgate, $15 million for the Pacific Highway and $5 million for Huntington.

But no contracts have been signed, said Patrizia Giolti of the Canada Border Services Agency. Consulting work is expected this year, but no construction will begin until the spring of 2010, she said.

In the three Maritime provinces, the budget promised about $12 million worth of work on dilapidated wharves and crumbling harbour infrastructure at four locations.

Camille Maillet, harbourmaster at Shippagan, N.B., said work is expected to begin in June, though a federal spokesman says July is more likely. The fishing wharf is being rebuilt with $4.88 million over two years, creating about 10 jobs.

Wharf facilities in Miminegash, P.E.I. are slated for $1.34 million of repairs, though work wasn't expected to begin until June, said David Ellsworth, chair of the port committee. A federal spokesman says the tender has not yet been issued. Up to 18 jobs are planned.

Another $2 million is earmarked for the wharf at Wood Islands, P.E.I., though only four jobs have been created so far. A member of the volunteer board of directors of the harbour says some work stabilizing the wharf had already been done and more work has been tendered, and is expected to be completed later in the summer.

In Lower East Pubnico, N.S., tenders are expected to be issued in the next few weeks for $3.9 million in harbour development, including a new wharf.

A spokesman for Transport Minister John Baird noted that work is set to begin imminently on many of the transportation projects.

"We are working toward the speedy start on each of these projects and others," Chris Day said in an email.

"And since the budget, we have approved more than 950 others worth $2.97 billion in federal funding."

A Liberal critic said the weak showing in The Canadian Press survey is in keeping with the Conservative government's poor record over the last three years in getting infrastructure money out the door.

"This is very much a pattern," said MP Gerard Kennedy, citing slow spending under the giant Canada Builds fund as an example.

"This is, so far, the anti-stimulus government. ... There's no shortage of construction projects taking place in Canada right now - they just happen not to be the ones funded by the federal government.

"The spring season is now shot."

-With bureau files from Tara Brautigam, Michael MacDonald, Michael Tutton, Tobi Cohen, Maria Babbage, Steve Lambert and Steve Mertl.

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Fate of man who decapitated fellow bus passenger may not be made public

WINNIPEG - The public may never know if a man who beheaded a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus will be kept in an institution or given a conditional release.

The chairman of Manitoba's Criminal Code review board says such details about Vince Li's fate could violate his rights as a patient.

The board is to meet Monday to determine what will happen to Li, who was found not criminally responsible for the grisly killing of Tim McLean on a bus heading to Winnipeg last July.

The board hearing is open to the public, chairman John Stefaniuk said Tuesday. But government lawyers have advised against releasing any details about its rulings.

The lawyers say releasing such decisions could violate a patient's right to privacy under the province's Personal Health Information Act and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, he said.

But that legal advice hasn't been tested yet, Stefaniuk said.

"It's something that the board is currently investigating," he told The Canadian Press. "We have advice from our legal counsel through Manitoba Justice that our decisions and reasons for decisions are subject to restrictions ... We have to keep our orders and dispositions confidential because of the patient privacy issues."

McLean's mother said keeping Li's fate secret would be another example of his rights trumping those of her son. Carol deDelley said the idea that Li deserves privacy as a patient "boggles my mind."

"Therein lies the problem - I believe that he should be treated as a criminal, not a patient," she said. "The frustration that comes with that is overwhelming."

A judge ruled in March that Li suffered from untreated schizophrenia and did not understand that what he was doing was wrong when he attacked the 22-year-old carnival worker on a bus near Portage la Prairie, Man. An agreed statement of facts read in court detailed how Li heard the "voice of God" telling him to kill McLean.

Li attacked the young man, who fought back unsuccessfully, stabbing him dozens of times and scattering his body parts around the bus. Psychiatrists who testified at Li's trial said he is responding to medication but still poses a risk to himself and the public.

The review board has been studying court documents, police reports and victim impact statements in anticipation of the hearing. It will be allowed to call psychiatrists to testify about Li's mental state, and statements from the McLean family could be read into the record.

The board should issue a decision several days later to Li, the hospital where Li is institutionalized and the Crown lawyer - but not necessarily to the public, Stefaniuk said. After that, Li's mental health will be assessed each year by the same board to determine whether any conditions placed upon him should be eased.

Board members understand there is intense interest in Li's case, Stefaniuk said.

"We're very sensitive to that. I note that in Ontario the decisions are published ... and likewise in British Columbia - they're available online."

A spokeswoman for Manitoba Justice declined to comment on whether the board received legal advice from the province, referring questions to Stefaniuk.

Alan Libman, Li's lawyer, said he wasn't aware the board had been advised to keep its rulings private.

"The review board hasn't bothered to inform me ... nor seek Mr. Li's counsel's opinion on the matter," he said.

McLean's family is lobbying for changes to the criminal justice system so people who are found not criminally responsible aren't ever released.

Few people, however, expect Li will be granted freedom next week.

The 40-year-old Chinese immigrant has expressed remorse and wants to get better, Libman said.

"Mr. Li is very committed to working with his treatment team," he said. "Mr. Li is very committed to gaining insight into his illness and Mr. Li is very committed to working very hard so that one day he can resume his place in society."

 
 
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