Candidates taking municipal infrastructure crisis seriously

Federal election candidates in the riding here are taking to heart some of the complaints that have been launched by two municipal lobbying groups.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities completed a study recently that showed municipalities have an infrastructure deficit of $123-billion.

That group argues that support to rebuild roads, brid­ges, sewage treatment plants and water supports could help Canada out of its economic woes.

More recently, the Associ­ation of Municipalities of Ontario agreed to support its federal counterpart and lobby candidates from all parties for municipal aid.

Current MP Michael Chong has talked with business own­ers in Erin and Hillsburgh about the current economic climate and the challenges they face.

When asked about federal funding for municipal infra­struc­ture, he said, “We’ve pro­vid­ed a record $60-billion for infrastructure in Canada in the next number of years, in­cluding $5.3-million a year in gas tax transfers to munici­palities in Wellington County, and we’ve made that $5.3-million a year a permanent annual transfer.”

Chong finished though, by noting, “Clearly more needs to be done. We’ve got to slow the population growth in Guelph and Wellington by putting more of that growth put back into cities like Toronto and Missis­sauga.

“We’ve got to start build­ing up not out.  We’ve got to get federal and provincial govern­ments to invest billions more into public transit for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.”

Liberal candidate Bruce Bowser has had a number of conversations with local muni­cipal politicians and others active at the municipal level. 

“We are hearing about the pressures of development, need for more infrastructure funding and a need for greater dialogue between all three levels of government so that commu­nities like ours can thrive. 

“Obviously, with our major infrastructure announcement … the Liberal Party is aware of those concerns and issues and we are taking steps to address the concerns and provide muni­cipalities with the resources to address those concerns.

NDP candidate Noel Duignan said he has not been hearing much about the municipal infrastructure deficit to date, except from Region of Halton Chairman Gary Carr, who has written him a letter outlining his concerns about the high long-term costs for repairing roads, bridges, and sewage treatment plants.

Duignan said people he has met on the campaign trail are more concerned about the economic crisis in the United States and how it might spill into Canada and around the world. He said the NDP would provide one per cent of the GST to municipalities in order to give them some stable funding, and it also is offering $300-million more for municipal capital and repair projects in addition to that.

Green Party candidate Brent Bouteiller said in a recent interview that he had not been hearing much to date from municipal politicians, but he is sympathetic to their plight.

But he has done work for various municipalities, and said, “Clearly, municipalities are having difficulty keeping up with improvements.”

He noted that some municipalities became disgruntled with federal and provincial governments offered grants in the form of a competition. Those who did not receive funds had to cover the costs of their applications for nothing.

He added that some applica­tions were successful for things he said were “not important.” Bouteiller added that in many cases municipalities had to scramble to put together applications just so they could obtain the grants.

“That’s not fair,” he said. “We know we have to provide more money to help municipalities get back on track.” He said one thing the Green Party is considering is allowing people to invest in municipal bonds that would also be eligible for the RRSP exemp­tion.

“It’s still debt – but its local debt,” Bouteiller said, adding his party supports a one per cent GST allocation to municipalities for “steady, predictable funding.”

Christian Heritage Party candidate Jeffrey Streuker said he was not hearing much to date about municipal infrastructure, but he pointed out his party had recently announced plans to deal with infrastructure – by going back to the future.

The CHP announced it would fund infrastructure at no interest loans with money created by the Bank of Canada exclusively for that purpose.

He said when such loans are paid back, that money would be retired, and that would avoid debt and inflation.

The plan is the same one the Liberal government of Prime Minister MacKenzie King used in the 1940s after the war, when there were fears of a major economic recession with all the servicemen returning home from overseas.

That plan not only worked, it started one of the longest economic upswings in Canadian history.

Streuker said one of the major benefits of having the federal bank create the money and lend it directly is that debt would not be placed on future generations of Canadians.