The Big City Vote- The Liberals

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This week, Spacing Montreal takes a look at what each federal party has in store for cities. For an overview of the issues, see Monday’s post.

The Liberals are a largely urban party. Their willingness to partner with cities is clear from their platform, and from the positive reaction this platform has received from city leaders. Jean Perrault, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), says: “The Liberal plan would provide critical tools for turning the tide on the municipal infrastructure deficit. It is the most significant, longest-term, national infrastructure funding plan released to date.” The Liberals can also pride themselves on introducing the Gas Tax transfer to cities back when Paul Martin was in power, a transfer they would maintain in addition to the following promises:

Infrastructure:

The Liberal plan includes a ten-year, $70 billion funding promise for cities (it should be noted that the $25 billion already going to cities through the Gas Tax transfer is included in this $70 billion figure). The funding promise includes $10 billion for basic and green infrastructure, such as clean water and sewage treatment, and clean energy grids, and $4.5 billion for the “Gateways, Corridors, and Borders” of the country to facilitate trade and economic growth. The Liberals also propose an innovative idea: an Infrastructure Bank, which will lend to all levels of government at low rates for long-term infrastructure investments. Citizens will be able to participate in these projects through purchasing so-called tax-free Green Bonds similar to Canadian Saving Bonds, though what makes them “Green” is anybody’s guess.

In addition to this funding, the Liberals also pledge to give to cities any unexpected surplus funds from the Federal budget which exceed the $3 billion contingency reserve. Given the surpluses of the last ten years, such a promise would have netted cities $75 billion, but such non-binding commitments are notoriously hard to keep at surplus time.

Transit:

Also included in the $70 billion plan is $8 billion for a National Transit Strategy, which meets one of the most important demands voiced by Toronto and Montreal mayors David Miller and Gerald Tremblay at a press conference last month. Details on this plan are sparse, saying only that the money will be used to “expand [cities’] systems and green their fleet”. It doesn’t exactly sound like a grand-scale “Strategy”, but regardless it is much needed funding for city transit.

Housing:

The Liberals promise to provide 30,000 new social housing units, and refurbish 30,000 existing units. They will also provide $10,000 “Green Mortgage” loans to homeowners who are retrofitting their homes to make them more energy efficient, and $140 million in funding to retrofit low-income housing.

Crime:

The Liberal platform does not promise any new funding for police forces, though it does promise to ban assault weapons from streets, another one of the top concerns from the FCM.

In sum, it’s clear where the Liberal’s bread and butter is: the city folk of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Their platform represents many of the concerns voiced by cities, though one can wonder why the Liberals weren’t more aggressive on these issues while in power. Perhaps Stephane Dion’s green focus has shifted the party’s priorities, or perhaps it’s just easier to promise green infrastructure as the parliamentary opposition.

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