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Infrastructure: Municipalities are key to Phase 2 (22/11/2016)

The following article was published in The Hill Times on Monday, November 21, 2016.

This is a watershed year for the federal-municipal partnership. The federal government has put forward an unprecedented plan to build Canada's future by investing in local infrastructure. The recent Fall Economic Statement underscored this commitment to generate growth by building stronger cities and communities. And by taking a sensible, Canadian approach of working together, all orders government have a remarkable opportunity to improve our quality of life.

As President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), it's my honour this week to lead nearly a hundred municipal leaders onto Parliament Hill — ready for over 150 meetings with parliamentarians scheduled for November 22-25.  We're here to show how local governments can ensure that Phase 2 of the federal infrastructure plan delivers the best outcomes for Canadians.

Municipalities are already responsible for 60 per cent of the transportation networks, water systems, recreational facilities and other public infrastructure that supports our economy and quality of life. We engage directly with residents and industry to shape land use and development. Increasingly, we also deliver vital public services, support housing solutions and keep people safe from crime and natural emergencies.

Rural and urban, northern and remote, big and small, we're building the strong communities Canada needs to support families and to compete for talent and investment. Community building is nation building, and we're ready to do much more.

For instance, many of our cities have significant transit expansions mapped out. With predictable Phase 2 funding, they'll be able to move forward and get people moving faster. But they'll also reduce Canada's GHG emissions and recover national productivity that's being lost to gridlock. It's just one example of how local solutions can tackle big national challenges.

Last week at the COP22 climate summit in Marrakesh, FCM officials showed the world how Canadian municipalities are modelling some of Canada's greenest practices — from district heating to building retrofits to low-GHG waste systems. We can take a large bite out of Canada's GHG emissions by scaling up this local innovation, and Phase 2 can make it happen.

On the eve of National Housing Day, a million and a half Canadian families can't find decent housing they can afford. One in five renters spends more than half their income on shelter. This housing crisis is a foundational threat to the strong, inclusive communities we want to build. Last month, FCM put forward a comprehensive plan to turn things around. This week, we're making the case that a well-designed Phase 2 is fundamental to getting the job done.

The potential for Canadians here is immense. But unlocking this potential will require some bold decisions about the design of Phase 2 — soon. In particular, this will require deepening the federal partnership with municipalities that already exists.

There's a reason successive governments have entrusted us to select and deliver infrastructure projects. We've developed unique expertise to assess local needs and consult local stakeholders. People hold us directly accountable for cost-effective results.  And this week, FCM is making urgent recommendations to build these values into the genes of Phase 2.

First, significant investment should be delivered as long-term, predictable allocations. That way, municipalities can plan ahead, tap local expertise, and move cost-effective projects forward.

Second, cost-sharing should be modernized so municipalities' limited fiscal capacity doesn't freeze progress. The federal government should continue its Phase 1 commitment to cover 50 per cent of capital costs, with provinces holding firm at their traditional one-third share.

Third, we need a bold decision to dedicate much of the Social Infrastructure Fund to affordable housing solutions. This is Canada's window of opportunity to tackle the housing crisis, and our assessment is that this is what our communities need to thrive.

A fourth recommendation has been to ensure Phase 2 benefits communities of all sizes. So we are heartened by this month's federal decision to dedicate $2 billion to rural, northern and remote infrastructure needs. This will benefit millions of Canadians living in smaller communities that are so essential to Canada's economic future — and that's progress to build on now.

This week, municipal leaders will meet with ministers and with parliamentarians of all political stripes. Strengthening communities is a challenge that can transcend any partisan divides. If we come together now, we really can build a better Canada from coast to coast to cast.

Clark Somerville is President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and a local/regional councillor for the Town of Halton Hills and Halton Region. FCM is the national voice of local government, with nearly 2,000 members representing 90 per cent of Canada's population.

Page Updated: 22/11/2016