Investing in Canada’s cities—don’t screw it up

2016 budget builds a foundation for global competition

By Curtis O’Nyon                                                         

Last week’s federal budget reflected what the Liberal Party has recognized since well before the 2015 federal election: Canada’s largest cities are vital to Canada’s success. They are the keys to a diversified economy, they are where Canadian arts and culture thrive and they are centres of innovation, immigration and investment.

While our natural resource sector plays an important role in our economy, the fact is our future as a country is tied to our cities.

2016 Budget Recap

The budget has committed $60 billion in new infrastructure investment over the next 10 years, to be rolled out in two phases. Phase I will invest $11.9 billion in new money over the next five years to modernize and rehabilitate existing infrastructure as well as to begin planning future large infrastructure investments such as public transit.

Phase II, which rolls out in 2018, allocates the remaining $48 billion to transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure projects. In addition, the money the former government committed to its Building Canada Fund will still flow to projects across the country, and the gas tax funds and GST rebates originally created by the Paul Martin Government will provide nearly $3 billion per year to all Canadian municipalities.

Putting Canada on the Map

While Phase I will allow cities to put Canadians to work maintaining, modernizing and planning existing and future infrastructure, it’s Phase II that will put Canada on the map because it gives our cities investment opportunities that will enable the nation to compete globally. Those funds will allow urban areas like Metro Vancouver to invest in its 10-year transit plan and Ottawa and Calgary to expand their LRT systems. Toronto will be able to tackle gridlock and expand subways and transit to its far-reaching suburbs.

Phase II funding will also enable our cities to invest in green technologies to reduce greenhouse gas and build infrastructure that tackles climate change. Finally, there is money for increased investment in social infrastructure and housing to assist our most marginalized citizens.

A Promising Start

This is the way it should all work, but as we have seen in the past, sometimes other variables take hold and what should be a positive outcome becomes bogged down in bureaucracy and politics. This government is off to a good start in terms of creating an atmosphere of open dialogue and consultation with the provinces and cities. If it can maintain its momentum, and the three orders of government can work hand-in-hand for Canadians, we should be able to create world-class cities that attract investment, create growth and become home to the world’s best and the brightest.

If we screw this up, Canada will struggle to compete globally. The time is now; let’s get it right.

Curtis O’Nyon is Wazuku’s Ottawa-based Senior Associate. He is a well-respected national strategist with experience working with all levels of government across Canada.