Comment 15127

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 04, 2007 at 14:41:37

I made a somewhat similar argument after the 2006 federal election:

I ended it with, "Now it remains to be seen whether the Conservative minority government makes the effort to understand what urban voters value and want from government. To do so will force them to re-evaluate some of their assumptions about the value of public amenities and public services."

Needless to say, after nearly two years (a surprisingly enduring minority government, made possible through a combination of skillful maneuvering and the disarray of the Liberal camp) it's pretty clear that the Conservatives have not succeeded in reaching urban voters.

Their disdain for the crisis in municipal infrastructure is a facet of this failure. It's a shame they're so calculating that they would set their priorities based on raw politicking rather than on sound policy.

They should be funding cities because it's the right thing to, not based on whether they think they can buy votes. That triangulating mentality is what produced the such legislation as the non-refundable transit tax credit (which City Council just effectively clawed back), instead of simply funding public transit.

As for the provincial Liberals, naturally a certain amount of triangulating goes on at that level (and in that party) as well, but I've been surprised at the extent to which the provincial Liberals have rolled out sound policies: the Greenbelt, Places to Grow, Good Places to Learn, changes to the Ontario Heritage Act, and now MoveOntario 2020.

They haven't done nearly enough to address poverty (poor people don't vote, right?), the school funding formula is still broken, and they need to upload social services (in fact, this would almost single-handedly restore the strained municipal finances in Ontario cities); but the changes they've made so far have been for the most part sensible, pragmatic, and effective.

Finally, I think an argument can be made that the most important political problem in Canada today is the broken municipal funding system:

The accumulated infrastructure shortfall is estimated at over $100 billion, and the recent catastrophic bridge failures in the news are just a taste of what lies ahead if we continue to neglect needed maintenance.

On a broader level, Canada will begin to fall behind other industrialized cities as our decaying infrastructure interferes with business growth.

The concept of cities being funded exclusively by property taxes may have worked in the 19th century, but cities are the engines of economic growth and they require more infrastructure than property tax assessments can cover.

Again, the federal Conservatives sit on their hands and pretend they're passive victims of a Constitution that defines cities as creatures of the province, but it would be easy to start fixing things without opening a constitutional can of worms.

The Conference Board of Canada has been recommending taking one percent of GST and giving it straight to cities. This would do a lot to fix the fiscal imbalance without creating a politicized false dichotomy of good guys (federal tax cutters) and bad guys (municipal tax raisers).

This, of course, would require the federal government to make a decision based on sound policy rather than clever politics, something they have been reluctant to do so far. If they don't, they risk missing a crucial opportunity to demonstrate to voters that they can be trusted with a majority government.

Further, they risk squandering the political climate that earned them a minority government in the first place, as the Liberals regroup, reorganize, and present themselves as the party that can address these challenges head-on.

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