Justin Trudeau promises plan for cities, Joe Oliver asks how it will be funded

EDMONTON — Justin Trudeau promised Canada’s big city mayors a new deal Friday, but Finance Minister Joe Oliver urged them to push the federal Liberal leader on how he plans to pay for it.

Trudeau, speaking municipal leaders at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting, promised an enlarged commitment to partner with and better fund cities and communities.

“It’s time to build stronger, more resilient communities (and) to invest in high quality, well-paying jobs,” said Trudeau. “Fairness for Canada’s cities and communities is possible. You know we need it. I don’t have to sell you on that.”

On Thursday, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is making strides on helping cities, such as with more funds for transit, but it’s not enough.

Robertson, the chair of the federation’s big city mayors’ caucus, said some of the nation’s infrastructure is decades behind, imperilling Canada’s ability to compete in the global marketplace.

Trudeau said his plan focuses on affordable housing, transit and infrastructure, better technology, and helping cities adapt to extreme weather catastrophes caused by global warming.

He also said he will help cities gather data by bringing back the long-form census.

“Strategic investments can make a real difference,” said Trudeau.

“Canadians from all across the economic spectrum are finding affordable housing in short supply,” said Trudeau, adding that affordable housing is an acute crisis point in Vancouver.

“Metro Vancouver is on the brink of a massive labour crisis because, over the next 10 years, housing will become unaffordable for residents working in 85 out of 88 in-demand jobs.”

Asked later by reporters, Trudeau said a fully-costed platform to pay for the cities plan will be presented in the fall election.

But Oliver reminded the mayors in his speech that Harper’s government has broadly expanded investments in cities while keeping taxes low.

Oliver said the average age of core infrastructure in 2000 was 18 years, but is now under 15 years. That’s the lowest level since such data started being collected in 1961, he added.

“We are already investing 10 times more today than we did in 2003, and a lot more is to come,” said Oliver.

Oliver urged the mayors to ask where Trudeau, and other leaders, will find the funds to pay for their promises.

“Promises without a viable plan are hardly credible,” said Oliver. “And a plan is not viable if it is billions of dollars in the red and rising.”

Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will speak to the mayors over the weekend.

 

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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