Leaders of Canada’s cities, towns and villages are urging federal parties to woo voters by pledging to permanently double gas tax revenues flowing to local governments, extending a one-time bonus in the last Liberal budget.
The resulting hundreds of millions of dollars per year in infrastructure funding are desperately needed to maintain and improve traditional priorities including transit and roads, they said.
Municipalities are also looking for a federal partner ready to work together on new challenges including climate resiliency and the opioid overdose epidemic, the civic leaders said in a news release ahead of a Thursday news conference in Toronto.
“Municipal leaders are on the ground with Canadians,” Bill Karsten, president of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, and a Halifax city councillor, said in the release.
“We understand their daily challenges, and we make the most of limited tools to build solutions — from faster commutes, to more affordable housing, to more climate-resilient neighbourhoods. And we’re showing the federal parties how to work with us to significantly improve people’s quality of life.”
Municipalities across Canada have received cheques, usually in the millions of dollars, since the Justin Trudeau government announced a “one-time municipal infrastructure top-up” in the 2019 federal budget — a total boost of $819.4 million that Ottawa said would create jobs while helping local governments deal with crumbling infrastructure.
Now local leaders want the elevated funding that helped buy new Toronto subway cars and streetcars, a stormwater drainage system for Tiny Township and a bridge in Chatham-Kent, to continue indefinitely, saying they are responsible for more than half of Canada’s infrastructure but collect just 10 per cent of each Canadian dollar.
“Because it’s predictable and direct, (gas tax funding) empowers us to plan and deliver cost-effective solutions,” Karsten said. “By doubling this year’s transfer, budget 2019 triggered a surge of work and proved what’s possible with this tool. Permanently doubling the GTF is the most efficient and effective step the next government can take to build better lives, in communities of all sizes.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory, a leading voice in the federation after his predecessor Rob Ford all but withdrew from it, called the election requests “a roadmap for how municipalities of all sizes can work together with the next federal government to build better lives for Canadians.”
The lobby group for municipalities will also press the federal parties, ahead of October’s election, to:
- Establish a permanent public transit funding mechanism.
- Pledge continuous funding to get more affordable housing built and tackle the “broader disconnect between rents, homes prices and incomes.”
- Establish new long-term funding to help municipalities protect themselves from extreme weather challenges including wildfires and floods.
- Establish universal internet access for rural and northern communities.