The astounding differences in the way two national political leaders communicate their vision for the future of Canadian municipalities will be important for Canadians to remember when the next federal election rolls around.
On the second day of the FCM conference, NDP leader Jack Layton delivered a forceful and passionate speech about how municipal governments are at the forefront of all the important issues in our country today and outlined policies that the federal NDP is advocating to solve these problems.
Layton emphasized the need to build a national child care program, the problem of the widening prosperity gap in our communities and the need for greater public investment. He pointed to the lack of federal Conservative action on the problems of homelessness, mounting infrastructure deficits, global warming, the concerns of First Nations, and the economic and jobs crisis hitting the manufacturing and forestry sectors.
The NDP leader said that a major reason he went into federal politics was to achieve solutions to these problems facing communities and “bring home the bacon for local governments.” These solutions included the 2005 Budget Amendment Bill through which the NDP wrestled $1.6 billion for affordable housing and $1 billion for public transit from the Liberals and put an end to an unnecessary corporate tax cut.
The NDP are now also pushing for the federal government to establish a permanent infrastructure program, a Clean Water Act, and $100 million in annual investments for youth employment programs. He also outlined a new NDP proposal improve energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs by renovating and retrofitting 7% of buildings each year in Canada using a revolving loan fund and modeled on highly successful programs.
The delegates gave Layton a standing ovation and responding warmly to his assertion that “the work of the FCM has never been more important”.
Layton’s speech followed speeches at the FCM by Prime Minister Stephen Harper [on Day 1] and federal ministers Lawrence Cannon and Gary Lunn [Day 2]. Harper and his ministers disappointed many delegates by not announcing more support for the problems facing communities across Canada.
While many homeless people politely panhandled for spare change outside the conference facilities, Harper told reporters “our problems (in Calgary) are really the problems of prosperity.” Harper’s solution to the infrastructure deficit is also out of touch: he is pushing privatization and P3s on municipalities and other governments and not providing any additional funding. This approach will cost local governments more, endanger community public services, destroy decent public sector jobs, all just to benefit private businesses.
Also on Day 2, FCM Delegates unanimously passed an emergency resolution to call on the federal government to annually share the equivalent of one cent of the GST revenues with municipalities and local governments, which would yield approximately $5 billion per year. This would provide municipalities with the fiscal capacity they need to be financially sustainable and help provide the funding necessary to eliminate the infrastructure deficit.
As CUPE research has shown, municipalities are facing a funding shortfall of about $5 billion compared to what they would have received if federal and provincial transfers had increased at the same rate as the needs of municipalities – or their other revenues.