(OTTAWA) - In Edmonton to participate in the annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada and MP (Saanich – Gulf Islands), unveiled the Green Party’s 2015 election commitments for action on key municipal issues.
“Canada needs to think like a country again,” said Elizabeth May, “Greens are proposing a new way to do business, bringing all orders of government around the same table. The Council of Canadian Governments will provide a consultative process to develop shared plans and priorities. The council, based on an Australian model, will be chaired by the Prime Minister, all premiers, representatives of municipal governments - as selected by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities - as well as leaders from First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples.”
The details of the Green Party’s pledges on Governance, Infrastructure, Housing and Rail Safety are attached to this release.
• A solid long-term commitment to confronting the $123 billion infrastructure deficit - committing one point of the GST to municipal needs as well as creating an Infrastructure Bank;
• A National Housing Strategy addressing needs for social housing as well as affordable market housing;
• Rail safety, ensuring the goods rolling through our communities can never again become a bomb. Such as that that led to the tragedy in La Megantic.
Adriane Carr, Leader of the Vancouver Green Party, continued:
“Vancouver's infrastructure, like all Canadian cities, is dangerously aging. The cost to upgrade it is increasing and the urgency is greater than ever due to climate change. Our 100-year-old sewers pipes can't handle the increasingly more frequent and intense rainfalls and storms. Ultra-low or zero-interest loans and a one percent GST transfer to municipalities would really help. Imagine the positive economic, social and environmental impacts if we had the money to expedite infrastructure upgrades including seismic upgrades to schools; repair aging, affordable rental, co-op and social housing buildings; expand public transit and invest in the clean tech, renewable energy systems that would reduce both our carbon footprint and our energy costs.
Wes Regan, Green Party Urban Affairs Critic and Candidate (Vancouver East), concluded:
“Canadian municipalities are limited in their ability to raise the necessary revenues to maintain and improve critical infrastructure and services. This is not only at the heart of the infrastructure crisis but also potentially at the heart of the growing affordability crisis, as major Canadian cities in particular have turned increasingly to the property development sector to shore up the growing deficit. We can't expect to continue extracting revenues for infrastructure through value capture instruments like Community Amenity Contributions and Development Cost Levies for condo towers and townhouses without facing serious consequences in terms of the cascading effects of land economics that this practice causes.”
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Background: The Green Party’s Agenda for Municipalities in the 21st Century
In 1867, when the British North America Act set out the heads of power in a new confederation of provinces, territories and the federal government, the vast majority of Canadians lived in rural areas. Municipalities were simply the “creatures” of their respective provinces subservient to provincial governments. Now the vast majority of Canadians live in towns and large cities. The heads of power in the Constitution have remained the same, but the burden of responsibilities of municipalities to ensure safe roads and bridges, maintain modern water works, efficient public transit, meet the growing crisis in affordable housing, deliver garbage and recycling pick-up and the myriad of social services that fall to the municipal order of government is staggering.
The growing national infrastructure deficit reflects this dramatic shift in municipal responsibilities, compounded by the failure of federal governments to confront the need to invest heavily in upgrading public transit, water and waste water facilities roads and bridges. A modern, wealthy industrialized nation should not have infrastructure literally falling to pieces. Our massive infrastructure deficit is now estimated to be $123 billion.
The Green Party is fully committed to the FCM agenda. We believe it will take more than money. Our 2015 commitments fall in the following categories:
1) National Governance
2) Investing in Infrastructure
3) A National Housing Strategy
4) Rail safety and the right to know
1. National Governance
We need to urgently take action to get all governments and Canadians working together again. The municipal order of government needs a seat at the table.
Australia has a model that Canada could follow to create a more collegial and collaborative federalism without the need for constitutional change. The 10-member Council of Australian Governments consists of the Prime Minister, the state and territorial leaders, and the head of the Australian Local Government Association.
Established in 1992, the Council fosters cooperation on policies and issues of national importance. It is generally well accepted and has enabled Australia to eliminate much of the inter-jurisdictional wrangling with which Canadians are so familiar.
A Council of Canadian Governments, chaired by the Prime Minister, would include provincial Premiers, territorial leaders, representatives of the municipal order of government, and representatives of Indigenous leadership. Ensuring that First Nations, Metis and Inuit leadership have a seat at the table is, we believe, a concrete step on the path to reconciliation.
The Council would not be a formal part of the legislative process, nor would it have any governmental powers or constitutional status; instead, it would supplement First Ministers’ Conferences. The representatives from the municipal order of government would be selected through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
The Council’s role would be to initiate, develop, and monitor the implementation of policy reforms that are of national significance and require action by all Canadian governments.
The focus on collaboration would bring more direction and coherence to governance. The Council would be transparent. Full information about its meetings, agendas, proposed initiatives, agreements, and so forth would be made public. Council meetings could be open to the public giving them access to experts invited to participate. This high degree of transparency would permit Canadians to demand much greater accountability from our leaders for progress on matters requiring national attention and action, and to engage more constructively in the political process. The provincial and federal legislatures would be accountable for any laws or regulations they made that followed up on the Council’s work.
Many policy areas are of mixed jurisdiction and need coordinated attention and effort, leading to coherent national responses. Just a few obvious examples of such governmental overlap that require attention include national strategies to deal with climate change, interprovincial barriers to employment and trade, access to affordable housing, a national pharmacare program, a national dementia strategy, and a national disability insurance scheme. In addition to addressing such issues, the Council of Canadian Governments could also be a forum where other levels of government made constructive contributions when our national government negotiates international treaties and trade agreements.
2. Investing in Infrastructure
The infrastructure deficit is so enormous that we believe it is time to look to innovative funding mechanisms.
While maintaining the gas tax revenue earmarked for municipalities, the Green Party also has proposed encouraging RRSP tax treatment for investments made in municipal bonds. As well, the Green Party maintains our previous commitment to funding immediately from the federal budget expanded programmes for six areas of key infrastructure needs:
• Community Brownfield Remediation
• Water and Wastewater treatment facilities
• Sports, recreational and cultural facilities,
• Public Transit
• Cycling and Pedestrian Promotion
• Community Housing
The Green Party maintains a commitment to fund these areas immediately to a total of $3 billion ($500 million/fund/year).
Still, given the scale of the problem, that will be insufficient. The full one percentage point of GST dedicated to municipal infrastructure will generate roughly $6.5 billion/year. Greens support the direct granting of these funds toward municipal infrastructure needs, without one-third/one-third/one-third financing requirements that hobble investments. Investing in infrastructure generates economic activity and jobs.
But even with over $6 billion/year to municipal infrastructure investments, more creative financing is needed.
That is why in 2015 we are advocating the creation of an Infrastructure Bank
The Green Party believes that a federal iBank set up as an independent, autonomous Crown Corporation would be a useful institution. An iBank can leverage the federal government’s expansive access to credit at the lowest possible interest rates on behalf of all municipalities. (In effect this is building on the successful stand-alone FCM funds created in the late 1990’s - the Green Municipal Fund and Partners in Climate Protection.)
One useful model for a federal iBank is the institution proposed by former Deputy Finance Minister, Scott Clark, and former head of the Fiscal Policy Branch, Peter deVries, one modelled on the Export Development Corporation. The iBank would build its capital by the federal government’s borrowing on its behalf at a much more favourable rate than provinces and municipalities received. The government would issue long term debt for an initial capitalization of say, $50 billion. Currently federal 30-year bonds yield 2 to 2.3 percent interest; provinces have to pay at least a full point more. The iBank will provide lower interest rates than provinces and municipalities can currently access. Provinces and municipalities could then borrow from the iBank for a designated range of projects: community Brownfield remediation; water and waste treatment facilities; sports, cultural and recreational facilities; mass transit promotion; cycling and pedestrian promotion; and community housing options promotion. As long as the iBank recouped its borrowing and administrative costs, there would be no incremental impact on the federal government’s budgetary balance. In another scenario, the government could even consider providing the funds to the provinces and municipalities interest-free as soft loans and subsidize the borrowers with a minimal effect on the federal budget balance.
More generally, an iBank can also blend private and public finance. It could operate much like the World Bank and other international regionally-based development banks, directly lending money or guaranteeing loans to start up viable projects that would be financially sustainable over time. In this way, such projects as toll roads, energy plants that collect user fees, and ports that charge fees to handle incoming or outgoing goods could be financed. (See the helpful discussion of infrastructure banks in "Catching Up: The Case for Infrastructure Banks in Canada" The Van Horne Institute, February 2014.)
An iBank structured like this could mobilize large amounts of private capital from pension funds, private equity funds, sovereign funds, and other pools to invest in a wide range of much-needed projects. The iBank could match the massive public infrastructure needs with private investors on a case-by-case basis in order to make much greater progress towards more efficient building of advanced energy, transportation, clean water and information platforms. Because it would play such a vital role, the iBank could even create economies of scale, particularly in the cost of high-quality civil engineering services for major infrastructure projects. Private investors are normally reluctant to invest in infrastructure assets which involve huge upfront fixed costs and a long average lifespan, but with the assurance from a public agency of recovering their initial investment over time, many would find infrastructure an attractive investment.
To ensure clear accountability to Canadians for the commitment to build and maintain our national infrastructure to the highest, most-advanced standards, the management of the iBank would involve a Board of Directors of experienced qualified persons appointed though an impartial selection process. One option might be to allow the federal government to appoint one director to the Board, for example, the Deputy Minister of Finance. To assure transparency and accountability, members of the Board would appear periodically before a committee of the House of Commons or Senate dedicated to our national infrastructure needs and responsibilities.
Regardless of how it is financed, infrastructure requires long-term planning, and all governments must collaborate to come up with workable approaches to the massive investment required. Government plays an important role in deciding what infrastructure is needed and where, including systems that promote environmental sustainability by building on world-class innovations in clean energy and technology. Over two-thirds of our carbon dioxide emissions come from burning fossil fuels for transportation, manufacturing, construction, and electricity generation. Only government can assure adequate protection for the private investor through multi-year contracts and predictable regulatory regimes. For example, a government has to make credible commitments not to expropriate the assets once built, and it must permit the private owner to recover the initial fixed costs as promised.
Building and maintaining a world-class infrastructure will bring about enormous economic and employment benefits. This will require bold action from our national leaders. To meet immediate needs, however, the Green party supports the transfer of 1% of GST revenues to municipalities to provide substantial funds for transit expansion, streets, parks, water systems, schools, and community centres. Tolls and user fees for funding expressways, water systems, and sewage networks could be expanded. Municipal zoning should encourage more family-friendly housing development close to transit stops, tying land use and density to transportation capacity. The federal government could make use of innovative borrowing requirements, including upfront loans and guarantees, to allow cities access to billions of dollars for infrastructure and other projects that would create jobs and stimulate economic activity, instead of making them wait for sales tax revenues to flow in.
3. A National Housing Strategy
The federal government has to get back in the business of social housing.
Even with the funds transferred to the municipalities for housing, more will need to be done. The long-term goal of the Green Party is to eliminate poverty altogether through a Guaranteed Liveable Income. This is one of the issues to be placed before the Council of Canadian Governments, as it will take a multi-jurisdictional approach – ending poverty band-aid programmes and replacing them (and their costs) with a straightforward system of a consolidated benefit to every Canadian.
Housing shortages remain critical. An essential component of a strategy to mitigate poverty and inequality is to ensure affordable housing and to take aggressive steps to eliminate homelessness.
The Green Party supports greater and sustained federal funding for social housing and an increased commitment to building on the innovative Housing First outreach initiative “At Home/Chez Soi” for homeless Canadians. At Home successfully provided social services to more than 1000 chronically homeless persons in Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. Federal funding of $110 million was delivered through the Mental Health Commission of Canada. This on-the-streets, one-on-one strategy has been innovative and productive: Homeless persons are first provided with a heavily subsidized home with no strings attached, and then, once settled, they are inundated with services of all kinds, if they want them. This is precisely the kind of collaborative initiative that can really make a difference in a cost-effective way.
The Alberta government has invested $500 million in the past four years in a similar Housing First initiative and the City of Calgary is engaged in a related 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness that has already resulted in an 11.4% reduction in the homeless count from 2008 to 2012. It is important to adequately support and fund these and other initiatives with a proven track record of helping homeless Canadians like the Réseau Solidarité Itinérance du Québec (RSIQ).
We should also consider establishing the Canadian equivalent of the American Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation to create new partnerships among government, private capital, social entrepreneurs, and the public. One outcome of such collaboration would be the provision of long-term funds for a broad range of non-governmental agencies (like the Mental Health Commission), which deliver targeted social services.
To really make progress on eliminating homelessness, however, requires much more investment in affordable housing. This means maintaining and substantially increasing the federal operating spending for social housing from its base of $1.6 billion today. In “Renewing Canada’s Social Architecture” (May 2105), the Mowat Centre, Caledon Institute, IRPP, and Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, make the disturbing projection that federal operating spending for social housing is set to decline from the peak of $1.6 billion today to $81 million in 2031, reaching zero in 2040.
Expanding affordable housing has to focus on rental housing, however desirable the goal of promoting home ownership may be. The tax system should restore the favourable treatment once in place for purpose-built rental housing. To expand affordable rental housing, consideration should be given to a low income housing tax credit. To this end, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) could distribute funds to provinces for the purposes of supplying more rental housing based on core need. Unfortunately, Budget 2015 did not deliver on a promise to sustain funding for social housing at current levels.
This is precisely the kind of collaborative initiative that can really make a difference in a cost-effective way. We should also consider establishing the Canadian equivalent of the American Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation to create new partnerships among government, private capital, social entrepreneurs, and the public. One outcome of such collaboration would be the provision of long-term funds for a broad range of non-governmental agencies (like the Mental Health Commission), which deliver targeted social services.
4. Rail Safety and the right to know
The Lac Megantic disaster and the tragic loss of lives requires of us that we do more to ensure safe transportation of goods by rail and guarantee that municipal governments have the right to know what is moving through their communities.
The private sector, now controlling our rail beds and tracks, is simply cutting too many corners. Tracks are not being properly maintained. Cut-backs in staffing and over-working engineers are a recipe for disaster. The reliance on Safety Management Systems is unwise. Although Transport Canada refused to call these what they are - a form of self-regulation – their adoption contributed to the conditions that created Lac Megantic.
In other words, the system for moving goods by rail was being undermined just as the goods being carried became more dangerous. The amount of unconventional fossil fuels moving by rail is a great source of concern.
We need to invest in rail safety and better regulate it.
Municipalities need to access funds for re-routing rail lines to by-pass densely populated areas. Re-allocation of ownership within rail yards is also a critical municipal need.
And we need legislation to ensure that municipalities know what is moving through their communities.
In the 2015 election, the Green Party has a realistic prospect of electing a larger number of Green MPs. In a minority Parliament, we are committed to working with any other parties to meet the urgent needs of the municipal governments across Canada. We are committed to working together – across party lines federally – and across jurisdictional boundaries within our federation.
We have a lot of work to do. Greens know we can accomplish anything by working together.