Joseph Tohill is one of our local interns working on Mapped! our Vancouver Youth Asset Mapping project.
With nearly 80% of Canadians now living in urban areas, cities are crucial in ensuring environmental sustainability and social equity. And with the federal election looming around the corner, many Canadians are curious what each of the federal parties’ stance is on cities. With issues such as the economy and healthcare taking over the debates, one may think that urban issues have taken a backseat recently. However, a review of each of the parties’ platforms and policy proposals suggests that cities are still important.
The Conservative Party has reported in the media that, “cities are vitally important to Canada’s success” (Metro Vancouver, April 20th, 2011). Judging from their election platform, it seems they want to give cities considerable autonomy in achieving their goals. However, they also recognize the need for support from the federal government, since they have access to more resources and tax revenue. They propose making the Gas Tax Fund (GTF) permanent, so that municipalities have access to a predictable source of revenue for investing in infrastructure (roads, highways, waste-water systems, etc.). They emphasize the need for sustainable infrastructure investments through the GTF.
However, the Conservatives also want to focus more on volunteers and volunteer organizations such as Pathways to Education, to reduce high school dropout rates and help youth in low-income communities attain higher education and job training. As safety has been a key election issue for the Conservatives, they also propose renewing support for the Youth Gang Prevention Fund and making it permanent in order to help vulnerable youth and make communities safer all across Canada.
Similar to the Conservatives, the Liberals also want to provide support for municipal issues without infringing too much on the autonomy of individual cities. Their priorities are for the support of local and regional transit, rapid transit, and commuter rail to help provide cleaner alternatives to the private vehicle. They propose the implementation of a Canada Transportation and Infrastructure Strategy to coordinate the unique needs of cities and communities across the country and provide a more long-term framework to transportation planning.
The NDP recognizes that cities are the economic drivers of Canada. In order to support urban public transportation, the NDP proposes adding an additional cent of the existing gas tax to go to municipalities for transportation investments. They also propose the provision of a tax exemption for employee workplace based transit passes, to encourage the use of public transit in cities. The New Democrats also want to strive to make communities safer and propose increasing federal support for crime prevention initiatives from $65 million to $100 million per year.
Unsurprisingly, the focus of the Bloc Québécois is on providing support for municipalities in the province of Quebec. When it comes to infrastructure, the Bloc Québécois supports more sustainable transportation options such as commuter trains and tramlines. Strong social policy is a key part of their election platform. They seek to fight poverty by investing in safe and affordable housing and providing additional funding for the National Crime Prevention Strategy.
The Green Party has a certain vision of how they want Canadian cities to look, and they are eager to support initiatives that are aligned with this vision. However, they still remain committed to grassroots action and local empowerment. They feel the federal government should take the lead in greening Canadian cities by doubling existing funding to reinvest in public transportation infrastructure such as efficient light rail and coordinated buses. As they view automobile usage and urban sprawl as problematic for the environment, they will provide no funding for the expansion of highways and roads.
Although the Green Party is often pigeon-holed as an exclusively environmental party, they propose extensive social policies as well. In particular, they propose setting up a federally funded and community guided school lunch program so that kids can eat healthy while learning about sustainable food production. They also seek setting aside a specific percentage of the federal budget for support of community arts programs and facilities.
In the end, each party holds a unique perspective when it comes to Canadian cities. Some parties such as the Conservatives and Liberals want to give considerable autonomy to cities while others such as the Green Party have a particular vision of Canadian cities they want to implement. The NDP and the Bloq Quebecois are in favour of more socially oriented policies of the city as the main driver of economic development. After weighing the different party platforms and policy proposals, it seems that urban issues are still very much on the radar of all the federal parties.