Election 2008: Cities in the Parties' Platforms

Canadians concerned about our cities were doubtless disappointed by the Leaders Debate last week, and won't get much satisfaction from the long awaited Conservative platform that came out yesterday. It's not as if the Conservatives didn't have enough time to prepare: we've known about the seriousness of the infrastructure deficit since well before the last election, and during that campaign Harper was often accused of having a bias against cities. 
The fact that the new Conservative platform gives over more space to a photo of people standing in front of a campaign bus than to municipal issues will not do much to change that impression.

Cities in the Platforms: Conservative
The $33 billion in infrastructure spending, over 7 years, and the continuation of the $2 billion dollar annual transfer in gas tax revenue have all been on the table since February's budget. So, no surprises.

At the time, announcement of this new spending was well received. Since the 2006 election though, estimates of the infrastructure deficit have more than doubled from $60 billion to the $123billion now quoted by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The disjoint between the scale of the problem and the 7 lines on municipal issues in the Conservative platform is glaring. Now that their cards are finally down, it might be a good time to look over what the other parties have on the table.

New Democrat
The NDP does slightly better, with promises of investing the equivalent of 1% of the GST in basic infrastructure as well as affordable housing, child care and other urban issues. In a separate initiative they also plan to restore the building retrofits program, heavily cut by the conservative government, and re-instate the low-income homes retrofit program. (If ever there was an area where you'd get the most bang for your retrofit buck, while also meeting social concerns, this is it. I never could wrap my head around the logic of cutting it.)

Liberal Party
The Liberals rise to the top in terms of both spending and a grasp of the importance of municipal issues. Framing it as part of their approach to job creation and economic development they promise: $70 billion over 10 years for infrastructure, including $8 billion for national transit strategy, $10 billion for strategic infrastructure (including clean energy grids and waste water treatment) and $3 billion for small communities; a special fund if the federal surplus goes over $3 billion; and the creation of a new Infrastructure Bank to provide low interest loans to all levels of government for long term green infrastructure projects.

There is some unintentional irony in some of the Liberal rhetoric though; they pledge to defeat the infrastructure deficit the same way they did the fiscal deficit -- hopefully not, given that cuts made in the 90s to balance the federal budget are part of what got cities into this financial mess in the first place.

Green Party
As we saw in the debates, with Elizabeth May at its head the Green Party has a knack for getting to the heart of difficult issues. Beyond proposing that 1% of the GST be given to cities, the Green Party platform is the only one to point out that the current taxation system was designed at a time when only 10% of Canadians lived in cities. Today they house 80% of us and receive only 8% of Canadian tax revenue.
Along with good ideas to support green transit, prevent sprawl and encourage economic innovation in cities small and large, the Greens are the only ones to propose reforms to the taxation system in the form of new powers allowing municipalities to issue RRSP bonds.

Toronto Mayor David Miller came out in support of the Greens early in the campaign because of its attention to municipal issues, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has been working hard to make sure cities get the attention they deserve. Even though they were missed in the debate it seems like the country's major parties were listening, all that is except for one. We will know in a week whether that will hurt the Conservatives or not.

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1 Response to "Election 2008: Cities in the Parties' Platforms"

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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.