After setting its tin cup on the crumbling sidewalk of municipal infrastructure, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities must have hoped for some sign other than Finance Minister Jim Flaherty with his pockets inside out.
That was the unfortunate timing, though, of an appeal by the FCM for a long-term federal commitment to help pay for infrastructure renewal.
The FCM wants Ottawa to provide an additional $2.5 billion annually over the next 20 years, matching provincial and municipal contributions to pay down a soaring "infrastructure deficit."
This deficit isn't spelled out in black and white, of course, but in the aging inventory of roads, bridges, subways, water and sewer systems that are the foundation of cities in which the majority of Canadians live.
The reasoning sounds awfully familiar because it is.
Remember when John Turner took the helm of the Liberal Party of Canada? A former finance minister in Pierre Trudeau's cabinet, Turner rallied support by rattling the same cup for urban infrastructure. That was 25 years ago.
It's not as though successive federal governments haven't responded. The Chretien Liberals earmarked the gas tax for infrastructure renewal and the Harper Tories have made the tax a fixture of municipal funding.
Yet infrastructure was not a priority in Ottawa - Turner, remember, was defeated by Brian Mulroney - and repairs have lagged farther behind.Flaherty seems too preoccupied with the federal fiscal deficit to be swayed by the infrastructure deficit.
On the same day as the FCM's appeal, he reported that the federal deficit reaches $26 billion this year, $7 billion more than projected.
In any case, the Building Canada Fund extends for another two years, so the infrastructure need is not an immediate issue, Flaherty said.
Yet it certainly is an immediate issue from a municipal standpoint. Traffic congestion alone costs the economy an estimated $10 billion a year in lost productivity. The extra funds are needed simply to catch up on repairs and replacement.
The problem is overwhelming in its enormity, pointing to the need for a more strategic
approach to manage the fiscal burden.
A national housing and infrastructure strategy, as the development industry has called for, would serve that purpose.
An asset-management strategy, as discussed at a recent City council workshop, could define
priorities with an inventory of what is required and when.
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