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Canadian cities call for national infrastructure strategy

"We have to stop measuring the federal government's urban impact by dollars spent or ribbons cut"


stategyA collection of CEOs representing Canada’s eight largest urban regional chambers of commerce and boards of trade, (the members of the Canadian Global Cities Council (CGCC)), have released a report calling for a united national urban strategy to support long-range infrastructure planning and funding.

The reportPlanning for an Urban Future: Our Call for a National Urban Strategy for Canada proposes a shift from the current ad hoc project-based approach to federal investments in Canada’s major metro areas to one that aligns investments with regional priorities to accommodate growth and competitiveness.

“The economic competitiveness of Canadian cities depends on the quality and capacity of urban social, transport and economic infrastructure,” said Jan De Silva, president & CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade and 2018 chair of the CGCC, in a media release.

“Without an ongoing planning process and coherent funding strategy for infrastructure, Canada is falling behind other countries—this impacts business competitiveness, job growth and quality of life.”

The CGCC lays out its vision of a National Urban Strategy suggesting three broad policy changes:

  • The federal government would take the lead in measuring infrastructure quality, disseminating best practices and identifying national urban policy goals. It would assign these roles to a central agency, or an office in an existing ministry. At present, measuring infrastructure maintenance shortfalls is left to a mix of provincial agencies and non-profits with no national standard.
  • City and city-region leaders would lead the development of long-range priority plans for urban infrastructure. As in other jurisdictions, provincial governments, agencies, institutions and other stakeholders would sign on to agreements between Ottawa and cities or city-regions to execute on these plans, drawing the maximum possible buy-in and helping to maintain a system-wide focus on priorities.
  • Federal funding for urban priorities like infrastructure would “fund the plan” with per-capita or near-per-capita grants, rather than funding projects or programs. This would give cities and city-regions more flexibility to substitute federal, agency, pension investments or other revenues for the municipal share of costs, just as Montreal has limited its cost exposure with the REM light rail project. The report argues that the usual -1/3, -1/3, -1/3 project funding model is unsustainable given limited city revenues and debt capacity.

“We have to stop measuring the federal government’s urban impact by dollars spent or ribbons cut,” said Patrick Sullivan, president and CEO, Halifax Chamber of Commerce and 2018 vice-chair of the CGCC. “Canada should follow examples set by our OECD counterparts—such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK—in setting broader urban goals and engaging cities and city-regions to develop plans consistent with national priorities.”

“More private and public investment is needed if our air and sea ports, our rail, power and road grids, and our transit systems are going to be competitive with other global cities,” added De Silva. “We need to ensure we’re investing in local priorities first, and getting the right results—a national urban strategy is how we get there.”

The members of the CGCC include:

Jan De Silva, president/CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade

Michel Leblanc, president/CEO, Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

Zoe Addington, representative, Calgary Chamber of Commerce

Iain Black, president/CEO, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

Janet M. Riopel, president/CEO, Edmonton Chamber of Commerce

Loren Remillard, president/CEO, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce

Todd Letts, CEO, Brampton Board of Trade

Patrick Sullivan, president/CEO, Halifax Chamber of Commerce