June 10, 2015
Thank you, Clark, for your kind introduction. I’m so happy to be back here in Edmonton.
I’ve had several opportunities to visit Edmonton since becoming Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and it is always a pleasure for me to be here. And since it’s my first visit back since the provincial election, I’d like to once again congratulate Premier Notley on her recent victory. She and her team ran a strong, positive campaign. One that didn’t take a single vote – or a single voter – for granted. And the people of Alberta responded to that.
Now, as you all know, I’m working hard toward a similar goal. I hope to have the opportunity, as Prime Minister, to work with leaders like Premier Notley. For that matter, I’d be equally fortunate to have a chance to work more closely with Mayor Iveson and other municipal leaders like him. Leaders like you – all across Canada.
If there is one thought that I hope you take away from my talk today, it’s this: that fairness for Canada’s cities and communities is possible.
I say that because I firmly believe that we’re not going to get very far in advancing the interests of today’s communities and tomorrow’s Canada until we rebuild these important relationships. For me, that starts with respecting the experience, the expertise, and the leadership right here in this room.
And we need to remember – that’s not a novel idea. That’s the approach that Paul Martin had back in 2002, when he addressed your Federation and made the case for a “New Deal” for Canada’s cities and communities, affirming your rightful place at the national decision-making table.
When Mr. Martin returned to this event in 2004, just a few months into his first year as Prime Minister, he had already begun to make that New Deal a reality. Starting with giving municipal governments a full refund on the GST. And in the budget that followed that 2004 address, the Liberal government introduced the federal gas tax transfer, a funding stream that now delivers more than $2 billion to communities all across Canada, each and every year.
But here we are, a decade later, with so much work still to do.
Those Liberal initiatives were important first steps in righting the fiscal imbalance with cities, but today, our municipalities still don’t have the resources they need to deliver the services that citizens expect. And our economy is suffering because of that fact.
Municipalities deliver more than 60 per cent of all services to citizens– but only collect between 8 and 12 cents out of every tax dollar. And on infrastructure, even though the federal government has about half of the fiscal capacity of all orders of government, it only makes 12 per cent of all infrastructure investments.
That isn’t sustainable – and it isn’t fair.
Our communities need greater support. I hear this every time I meet with municipal economic development staff.
There’s no shortage of great ideas, but we’re falling short in giving our cities and towns the infrastructure they need to attract new businesses and new jobs. It’s time for a new agreement between our municipalities, provinces and the federal government. It’s time for a new revenue source, dedicated and delivered to local governments.
Even if one-time financing can be logical – like in the case of infrastructure investments via the Canada 150 Fund – we must ensure that these funds are actually helping our communities and not just the government’s electoral prospects.That means building out reasonable timelines, to give communities enough time to review their needs, draft proposals and secure local buy-in. And it most certainly means starting discussions well in advance of known deadlines. No province in our federation should be denied their fair share of available funds simply because Ottawa is scrambling for pre-writ announcements.
Now, Mr. Harper, and his ministers, and his candidates running for election in your hometowns will tell you that current investments are enough to meet the needs of your communities. Even the newest municipal leaders in this room know that’s not true.
Far from giving communities what they need, investment in the Conservatives’ New Building Canada Fund was actually cut by 90 per cent, this year and last. Under the Conservatives, federal infrastructure funding won’t return to 2013 levels until the next election year, in 2019.
The flaws in the New Building Canada Fund – in how it was conceived, how it was announced and how it is being delivered – could have been avoided. It all goes back to that idea of a respectful, productive relationship. All that Mr. Harper’s government had to do was take FCM up on its offer to sit down and have a conversation about how to best design and implement the new funding plan.
In the two years that I’ve been Liberal leader I’ve visited nearly 200 cities and communities all across Canada. Let me assure you: the municipal leaders I’ve met have not been shy about sharing their opinions and advice. When we listen, good things can happen.
Last year, I congratulated the Prime Minister on his decision to index the gas tax transfer to inflation. And I’ll admit, this year, I was pleased to at least see him acknowledge the need to increase federal investments in public transit.
But there is more to leadership than announcing new investments. As a leader, you have to make time for the things that matter. That’s why I’ve made it a priority to visit so many Canadian communities, and meet with leaders like you.
It’s why as Leader of the Liberal Party I’ve been here, at this annual convention, all three years in a row.
And it’s why I’ll be here again next year.
Even if I’m Prime Minister. Especially if I’m Prime Minister.
As municipal leaders, you shouldn’t have to wait six months or a year to have your concerns heard by your federal partners. That’s why I’m committed to holding regular meetings with municipal leaders. And I’m very excited to be leading a team that is dedicated to making sure that the voices of your communities will be heard in Ottawa each and every day.
That’s a team that includes Edmonton councillor Amarjeet Sohi.
Halifax regional councillor Darren Fisher.
Pickering councillor Jennifer O’Connell.
And former mayor of West Vancouver Pamela Goldsmith-Jones.
There’s Dan Vandal, a former Winnipeg city councillor.
And Louis Browne, a former member of Regina City Council.
And of course former Toronto Councillor and current MP for Trinity-Spadina, Adam Vaughan.
And you will all recognize one of our future candidates – Karen Leibovici, former president of FCM, standing for nomination here in Edmonton West.
And those names I just shared – those are just the team members who are here with us today.
Dozens of the candidates running for the Liberal party this year are municipal politicians. We’re lucky to have so many talented mayors and councilors on our team, alongside accomplished municipal leaders like former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair. I’d feel bad about their shift from the municipal to the federal realm if I wasn’t so convinced that now, more than ever, Canada’s communities need strong, experienced local leaders in all orders of government.
We need that to make sure that local needs are acknowledged, that local priorities are acted on, and that the federal government is held to its responsibilities, financial and otherwise.
Last year, I said that for our communities to succeed, funding for infrastructure needs to be substantive, predictable, and sustained. Substantive, because municipalities have limited sources of revenue. The property taxes, development charges and user fees that you collect fund operations, not capital projects. The more that provincial and federal governments can help you with capital, the more room you have to support your operating budgets, for necessary things like emergency services and road repair.
Funding also needs to be predictable so that you can finance existing projects and plan for future work. Stable funding provides a revenue stream that you can borrow against – and now is the time to do so, when interest rates are low and investor confidence in our municipalities is high. Finally, funding needs to be sustained. Because you can’t draft a realistic budget, or build a responsible long-term plan, unless you’ve got a partner willing and able to provide the funding you need. Today, and long into the future.
Those principles have not changed. Substantial, stable and predictable funding for infrastructure has been at the heart of our decision-making over this past year and you’ll see them reflected in our election platform this fall.
You’ll also see a strong focus on the idea of fairness.
For me, fairness is about making sure Canada’s middle class – and those who are working hard to join it – can have a real and fair chance at success. It’s about giving back to Canadians the same opportunities that our parents and grandparents worked so hard to give to us. We’re putting that idea of fairness right at the heart of our plan.
We’ve proposed a new Canada Child Benefit that will help Canadian families with the high costs of raising their kids.
It’s a plan that will allow us to do more for the people who need it by doing less for the people who don’t. And we’ll give middle-class Canadians real tax relief, $3 billion worth, by asking the wealthiest Canadians – those who earn more than $200,000 a year – to do a little bit more.
We’re proposing these changes because we believe that restoring fairness and reducing inequality is in the best interests of all Canadians. When our middle class has more money in their pockets to save, invest, and grow the economy, we all benefit. When our middle class does well, our communities do well, too.
But that commitment to fairness doesn’t end with Canadian families. The cities and communities that we call home – they deserve fairness, too. They deserve a way forward that will grow our economy, stimulate job creation and improve the quality of life for Canadians.That is fairness for Canada’s cities and communities.
So I’d like to share with you what our infrastructure platform is going to look like. There are four areas where we believe strategic investments can make a real difference.
Number one: affordable housing.
It’s one of the most important challenges, because it really has to do with our sense of home and place. Today, Canadians from all across the economic spectrum are finding affordable housing in short supply.
According to VanCity Credit Union, Metro Vancouver is on the brink of a massive labor crisis because over the next 10 years, housing will be become unaffordable for residents working in 85 out of 88 in-demand jobs. In urban centres and in smaller towns, Canadians who can’t afford to buy will continue to put pressure on an already stressed rental market. And for those who rely on subsidized housing to make ends meet, the problem is even greater, with federal and provincial funding commitments set to expire, many just a few years from now.
We are concerned, as you are, about the government’s plan to eliminate rent-geared-to-income subsidies for those living in co-operative housing. Here in Alberta, more than a thousand families rely on these subsidies and if funding isn’t restored, many residents, like seniors on fixed incomes, will face homelessness.
A Liberal government will not let that happen.
Our platform will include measures to encourage the construction of new, affordable, purpose-built rental housing.
It will outline what we see as a renewed federal role in housing. It will include investments in innovative programs for supportive housing, as well as predictable and sustained new funding for affordable housing.
Second area of concern, public transit and transportation.
We will be looking at ways to enhance and expand investments in public transit and transportation. Our economic wellbeing relies on our ability to reliably move goods and people. If we fail to meet that challenge, we are failing Canadians. This is especially true in our larger cities, where lack of adequate public transit and worsening congestion are eroding our productivity. In the Greater Toronto Area, for example, that lost productivity is estimated to cost us more than $6 billion every year.
But there’s more at stake than lost productivity. The very livability of our cities is threatened when our citizens don’t have accessible, affordable ways of getting where they need to go each day.
Of course, public transit also comes with a tremendously high price tag, as you know. In almost all cases, the cost of public transit projects exceeds municipalities’ ability to fund it independently. That’s why you need provincial and federal partners at the table.
A Liberal government will repair the fractured relationship between municipalities and the federal government. We will invest more money in public transit and transportation.
The Conservatives announced a plan that sounded like everyone would have access. In truth, we’ve all seen that their plan is too big for small cities, too small for big cities and the medium-sized cities who thought they were going to be benefitting, just found out today, that they wouldn’t.
The federal government has got to stop playing cities against one and another. It’s time for fairness for cities.
We will also propose new and innovative ways to mobilize alternative sources of capital, such as pension funds. We will make it easier for municipalities to get shovels in the ground by removing the requirement that virtually every project must go through an onerous P3 screen – a process that too often results in unilateral federal decisions. And we will make sure that that investment gets to you when you need it, not when it’s politically convenient for the federal government to send it your way.
And third, speaking of things that can’t wait … climate change.
When I was responding to the latest federal budget in the House of Commons, I noted that nowhere in that budget – not once in over 500 pages – was climate change mentioned. I joked that maybe one has to believe that it’s actually happening before one bothers to address it.
Of course, we all know that climate change is real. The jury’s in. Especially so in Canada.
We’re already seeing its effects – from drought to coastal erosion, from ice storms to forest fires. Here in Alberta, in just the last five years, we’ve seen destruction on an almost unprecedented scale. The 2013 floods were one of the costliest natural disasters in Canadian history. Economic losses topped $5 billion, with nearly $2 billion paid out by insurers. The 2011 wildfires near Slave Lake cost upwards of $700 million. That same year, the windstorm in Calgary cost an estimated $200 million. And the year before that, half a billion dollars in insurable damages from a hailstorm that hit Calgary.
With each passing year, one thing becomes more obvious: much of the infrastructure that we have now was built for a climate that no longer exists.
And the economic impact of these changes will only grow in the future.
Adapting to climate change is an expensive proposition. We know, for example, that protecting Toronto’s Don River against future flooding will cost a billion dollars. But doing nothing will cost us five times that. Likewise, experts looking at flood mitigation options here in Alberta have called for a series of berms and bypasses that could cost nearly a billion. Sadly, we know that the cost of inaction is much, much greater.
When it comes to adapting to climate change, there is a direct connection between readiness and resilience. If we don’t make it a priority to build more resilient communities, we are putting our citizens, our environment and our economy at risk.
These challenges demand a coordinated response and a Liberal government will provide that response.
We will work with provinces, territories and municipalities to develop a comprehensive action plan that allows us to better prepare for – and respond to – weather-related emergencies.
Whether the end result is reinforcement to key infrastructure like dams and transmission lines, or the relocation of crucial access roads away from flood plains or other at-risk areas, every day that we ignore this issue is another lost opportunity. In other words, if we do not make responding to climate change a priority, we are putting our citizens, our environment and our economy at risk.
It’s time to build stronger, more resilient communities. To invest in high-quality, well-paying jobs. To make sure that we’re ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.
As municipal leaders, you are already seeing the devastating effects of climate change in your communities. It’s time you had a partner in Ottawa willing to A) acknowledge the issue, and B) get serious about preparing for tomorrow’s climate, today. Other countries are already doing it. We can’t afford to wait.
Fourth, and finally: smart cities.
Fairness for Canada’s cities and communities means a renewed focus on the unique needs of our urban areas, now home to 8 out of every 10 Canadians.
In particular, we need to look at ways to expand the network of smart cities across Canada.
Like you, Liberals understand that the future of our communities – and by extension, the future success and prosperity of Canada – relies on the smart adoption and deployment of data and technology. I would even argue that in 2015, it’s impossible to have good government without good data. Successful organizations collect data so that they know what is working and what isn’t. They set targets, measure progress, assess the effectiveness of programs, report publicly on results, and adjust, renew, cancel or expand programs based on evidence.
That’s what successful organizations do, and the federal government has stopped doing it. Making your work even more difficult.
That’s why, if we form government, we’ll immediately restore the long-form census. We need to give communities all across Canada the information they need to serve residents best.
But data is just part of the equation. Canada’s present and future prosperity also rests on our ability to attract people and investment from all around the world. And to do that, we need smarter cities.
To that end, a Liberal government will also help municipalities fund investments to make better use of data and technology. Greater integration between energy, transportation and IT systems will help cities work better for Canadians. In rural communities, we can – and should – aim much higher than the government’s current broadband access goals. And across Canada, improved wireless and digital technologies can make life easier – and businesses more productive.
For example, Quebec City is clearly working towards becoming an intelligent city. They understand the two principles that are the base of this concept: transparency and the creation of added value for citizens. Quebec City figured out how to merge innovation with partnerships, notably by dipping into talent and creativity from its own Université Laval. The city is also working to develop innovative solutions to municipal issues.
Many municipalities across the country have taken the first steps in becoming intelligent cities. I believe that the federal government has an important role to play in supporting these initiatives.
Municipalities cannot shoulder that burden alone. The federal government must be a strong partner as municipalities prepare for the future.And that need for true partnership is the thread that runs through everything I’ve talked about today.
Whether it’s affordable housing, public transit and transportation, climate change, smart cities, or the way that we prioritize and finance our investments in them – it once again comes back to a new spirit of cooperation. To the quality of the relationships and partnerships that need to exist between all orders of government.
If there is one thought that I hope you take away from my talk today, it’s this: that fairness for Canada’s cities and communities is possible. You know we need it. I don’t have to sell you on that.
I want you to know that with the right partner in Ottawa, you will have real partnership with Ottawa.
A partner that respects your experience – and lives up to its responsibilities. A partner that will help you to build the modern infrastructure needed to preserve our quality of life, create more good jobs, drive productivity and keep our economy moving forward. That’s what it’s going to take to make our communities strong and prosperous places that we’re proud to call home.
My friends, fairness for Canada’s cities and communities is possible. I’m looking forward to getting that job done together.
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