At Confederation, Canada was a predominantly rural country where fewer than one in ten people lived in cities. Our constitution set up a taxation system that greatly favoured the federal and provincial governments over municipal governments. The municipal order of government is not even mentioned in our Constitution, yet today eight in ten Canadians live in urban areas.
The Green Party believes we must fundamentally re-examine the place of the municipal order of government within Confederation. Whether through opening the Constitution to give greater recognition and powers to municipal governments or through the appointment of Senators specifically selected as voices for the municipal order of government in our upper chamber, Greens believe it is a conversation that is long over-due.
Urban Canadians need their garbage collected, good transit services, safe roads, and dependable water supplies. They also want new investment in green urban infrastructure including recycling, mass transit, energy efficiency upgrades to buildings, water conservation, and community amenities like parks, sports fields, and arts, culture and community centres. Underlying this is an urgent need to replace aging sewer systems, roadways, and water pipes.
All of these are municipal responsibilities, but Canadian municipalities simply don’t have enough money to do it all. According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 50% of Canadian tax revenue is spent on federal programs, 42% goes to the provinces and only 8% goes to municipal governments. Canada’s biggest fiscal imbalance is the imbalance between municipal governments and everyone else.
As Jane Jacobs pointed out in Dark Age Ahead, taxes are collected disproportionately at the wrong level. Most Canadians’ experience their government at the level where it collects their recycling, runs their buses, and provides their water.
The Green Party will redress the real fiscal imbalance facing the level of government least able to tax fully to cover its costs.
To support communities, we need to invest in critical infrastructure of transport and water works, to modernize and reduce energy demand. Green Party MPs will support the gas tax commitment to municipal governments. As well, Green Party MPs will advocate innovative strategies to liberate billions of dollars a year through RRSP deductions for municipal bonds.
Municipalities need stable and predictable funding so that they can invest in critical infrastructure such as mass transit, sewage treatment, energy efficiency improvements, better water systems to reduce waste and cope with erratic precipitation patterns of a changing global climate, as well as community amenities like sports fields, arts, and cultural opportunities.
The Greens will create a new pool of municipal infrastructure funding by changing tax rules to create a Municipal Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) bond that can be held in RRSPs and self-directed RRSPs. Between January and March 2011, Canadians spent $9 billion in mutual funds. Imagine if even half of that was available to our communities.
This will be in addition to preserving the current allocation of the federal gas tax directly to the provinces for transfer to municipalities. Municipal governments must enter into agreements to ensure that sprawl is not facilitated through extensive infrastructure funding. Densification; speedy, safe, and pleasant mass transit; safe cycling paths; and other investments to conserve electricity and water will all merit stable financing.
Green Party MPs will:
Increase the Gas Tax Transfer to municipalities to five cents/litre to be used in funding the above sustainable transportation initiatives such as public transit, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and rural roads;
Recognize that access to high-speed internet connections is now a critical aspect of infrastructure and work to expand access to address the ‘digital divide’;
Make employer-provided transit passes tax-free by exempting them from taxable benefit status, thereby encouraging workers and businesses to use public transport, and make employee parking a taxable benefit;
Change tax policy to create a new pool of long-term municipal infrastructure funding by allowing municipalities to issue new Municipal Registered Retirement Savings Plans Bonds which can be held in RRSPs and self-directed RRSPs;
Fund ‘Green Cities’ initiatives, ensuring (through contractual agreements) that the funding is not used in ways that encourage urban sprawl, but instead to reduce sprawl and GHG emissions, conserve electricity and water, increase densification, expand convenient, safe, reliable and affordable public transit, and build cycling and walking paths.
This funding will be transferred through six Municipal Superfunds of $500 million/fund/year (an average of $100 for every citizen per year) to which municipalities can apply for grant funding to replace the less specific Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund (CSIF). The proposed funds are:
Community Brownfield Remediation (CBR) Fund to provide assistance in cleaning up toxic and brownfield sites;
Water and Waste Treatment Facilities (WWTF) Fund to upgrade water treatment, sewage treatment, and recycling facilities to make them efficient, safe, and sustainable;
Sports, Cultural, and Recreational Facilities (SCRF) Fund to support the development of green recreational and cultural facilities and refurbish existing facilities;
Mass Transit Promotion (MTP) Fund to improve and expand urban mass transit infrastructure and inter-modal connections, as well as car-sharing initiatives;
Cycling and Pedestrian Promotion (CPP) Fund to support pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and smart-growth developments that transform urban areas and towns into walkable communities linked by transit to reduce the need for owning and using cars; and,
Community Housing Options Promotion (CHOP) Fund supporting a national housing program to build energy efficient co-operatives and affordable housing units where there is a shortage of such housing options.