Cities to push Ottawa for 20-year, multibillion-dollar infrastructure plan
London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is calling on Ottawa to create a 20-year plan to fix infrastructure across the country and Harold Usher thinks the federal government is finally listening to that call.
In addition to the 20-year plan, the FCM proposal calls for an increase in annual federal investments dedicated to municipal infrastructure to $5.75 billion, from the current $3.25 billion, which will bring it in line, as a percentage of GDP, with historical levels from the 1950s to the mid-1970s.
FCM is proposing maintaining the existing permanent gas tax transfer, but with a cost-of-living indexation of three per cent per year. It is also proposing a new federal program designed to efficiently leverage matching investments from municipalities and provinces with a minimum of red tape and bureaucratic costs.
“I think this is excellent news. My understanding is the provincial government will step up to the plate,” said Usher, the councillor for Ward 12 and a member of the FCM board of directors. “We want to stop the crumbling roads, the gridlocks with transit and the problems with the underground utilities from getting worse.”
Usher said during between the 1950s and 1970s, municipal infrastructure was progressing and being funded by the federal government. When that funding dried up, cities started falling behind.
In 1994, Usher said, the federal government started to slowly come back into the program. In 2005 the Gas Tax Fund started to the tune of $2 billion per year across Canada. That was followed two years later with the creation of the Building Canada Fund, a seven-year program for $33 billion that is scheduled to end in 2014. FCM is asking that program to be renewed after the 2014 cutoff.
FCM officials have said the inefficiencies and uncertainty resulting from application-based programs is even more acute for smaller and rural communities that do not have the staff resources of larger municipalities.
Usher said this request, along with the creation of the 20-year strategy, is to bring municipal infrastructure up-to-date. However, since a $5.75 billion funding request doesn’t happen overnight, Usher said the work towards it has to begin now.
“If we don’t start asking for it now, 2014 will come and everything will drop dead, we won’t have any money coming from the federal government,” Usher said. “What we are pushing for really is some kind of announcement in the 2013 federal budget, saying in 2014 the federal government is going to start doing this to meet the construction season in 2014.”
The requests to the federal government will be made over the next several years, including next week as Usher and 99 other FCM members travels to Ottawa to speak with individual MPs.
“I think we are doing pretty well on our way there. The thing is, not to shock the federal government,” Usher said. “We are going from $3.2 billion for year, again for all of Canada, to $5.75 billion. They might say, ‘Whoa, that is a lot of money.’ But if we start talking about it today, they might get used to the numbers.”
Usher said one of the things FCM will push the federal government on is the shortfall cities have when it comes to adequate funding.
“We are only doing what we do with eight per cent of the tax dollar. The federal government gets 55 per cent. The structure of that tax doesn’t work well in this day and age,” Usher said. “We either need a whole new tax structure of both government have to take part of theirs and help provide this infrastructure. This is the core of our economy and they can’t allow it to collapse like one of the sinkholes we have had.”
Usher said he believes FCM will be heard and that when the federal budget comes down in March, the public will see something mentioned about the 20-year plan and the funding request for municipalities. By 2014, Usher predicts the money will be placed in the budget.
“I have no doubt about that. The federal government is listening and I believe the provincial government will follow,” Usher said. “This will boost the economy of every city and every little village. Maybe the big cities will benefit more, but everyone will benefit. Everything needs to be looked after.”
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