The federal government could be yielding more tax dollars to municipalities to collect and spend as they see fit, say two big-city mayors, but for right now, the most important thing is for infrastructure investment to start flowing.
Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and Kitchener-Waterloo mayor Berry Vrbanovic told The West Block’s Tom Clark between just their two municipalities, there’s probably $17 billion in immediate investment possible for things like high-speed rail, affordable housing development and upgrades to aging sewer and water infrastructure.
Cities are ready and willing to help kickstart the economy, the mayors said, and the promise of a quick, $60-billion cash injection from Ottawa is very appealing.
“The scale of it is really significant and we want to make sure that we can land that money, we could build out the projects, get Canadians to work as our top priority right now,” said Robertson.
In the long term, he acknowledged, it may be time to consider giving cities a bigger chunk of tax revenues. Municipalities handle 60 per cent of infrastructure work but have just 10 per cent of the tax base.
“We’re fortunate now to have a Trudeau government that recognized we have to invest in cities. They’re willing to put money on the table to do that as a next step, but longer-term change, I think, is more work for us to talk about going forward.”
The mayors of Canada’s biggest cities were in Ottawa last week to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and talk infrastructure spending as the federal government gets ready to table its first budget this spring.
Vrbanovic said there’s a recognition in Ottawa that funding allowances shouldn’t only be determined based on population.
“I think the governments are starting to realize that part of looking at this is not just looking at population size, but also where are some of the economic strengths in our country. And we know that for example, our region has had some of the highest economic growth in terms of GDP over the last while. The tech sector in general is thriving,” he said.
A new high-speed train service into Toronto would go a long way toward stimulating even more growth, Vrbanovic noted.
Watch the full interview above.