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Infrastructure debate heats up in the U.S. and Canada  

[PoliticsWatch updated 3:00 p.m. August 31, 2007]

The collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, (left) has killed 13 people. A similar collapse in Laval, Quebec, (right) killed five.

OTTAWA  —  A U.S. bridge collapses in the midst of a presidential election campaign and politicians from all parties start pointing fingers and playing the blame game.     

An overpass collapses in Canada killing five and the response is much more measured with the immediate launch of a public inquiry. 

These seemingly similar tragedies in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Laval, Quebec, highlight the differences between the political cultures in Canada and the U.S. and just how the debate about eroding infrastructure is being handled in the two countries. 

While the Minneapolis incident has become a catalyst for a debate on infrastructure in American politics, the tragedy in Laval did not do the same in Canada. 

The television pictures and scale of the Minneapolis bridge collapse was  much more dramatic than the section of overpass that collapsed in Laval. Miraculously, the death toll from the spectacular Minneapolis collapse has been 13, which is eight more than were killed in the Laval incident. 

Nonetheless, the initial reaction to the I-35 collapse brought separate trips to the site by U.S. President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.
 
In Canada, the original political symbolic reaction to the Laval collapse was limited to each of the parties in the House of Commons having a backbench MP offer their condolences in a statement before question period. Prime Minister Stephen Harper not only did not go to the accident site, but his office did not issue a statement. 

Instead, the Harper government quietly took action. Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon quickly announced after the incident that all federal bridges would be inspected and confirmed just weeks later that they were safe for public use. 

"We took immediate action to ensure that all federal bridges are safe and secure and that inspections are done on a regular basis," Cannon said in a statement. 

In recent federal budgets, the Conservative government announced a $33-billion  "Building Canada" infrastructure plan. 

"Not since the great national transportation mega-projects of the post-war era has the federal government launched such a massive undertaking," the prime minister boasted in a June speech to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. " This amounts to a coast-to-coast overhaul of the long neglected foundations of our economy."

Despite billions in new spending there are still calls for Ottawa to do more. 

The Canadian Automobile Association estimates that there is a $22 billion infrastructure deficit for Canada's highway system alone. 

In early August, the CAA released a study that found 41 per cent of Canadians are concerned about the safety of Canada's highway system. 

"This survey reinforces what CAA has long maintained that with deteriorating infrastructure and increased vehicles on the road, the overall safety of the roads and highways is a concern to motorists," said CAA president David Armour in a statement. 

While the Laval bridge collapse was not the catalyst for a political debate on infrastructure in Canada, it appears that another incident in Quebec over the summer may take the debate in that direction. 

In August, a busy section of downtown Montreal was evacuated and shut down for several days after a crack was detected in an underground tunnel connected to the city's subway system. 

Following the incident in Montreal, NDP Leader Jack Layton called for an emergency debate in the House of Commons on using the federal surplus to create an emergency infrastructure fund for cities. 

"In 2007, modern cities like Montreal should never have to shut down their downtown core because of infrastructure failure," Layton said. "The NDP will fight so that it never happens again."

Layton and the NDP have opposition days at their disposal and have the ability create a full day of debate and a non-binding vote on infrastructure funding in the Commons this fall. 

Click on the story below to get details on how U.S. politicians are dealing with the infrastructure issue. 

> The American Infrastructure Debate
U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton is ahead of the other presidential hopefuls on the infrastructure issue. Find out what George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama, John McCain, Mitt Romney and others have to say. 



:  Related Links

> The American Infrastructure Debate

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