From disaster relief to transit: What Canada’s cities want to hear during the federal election campaign

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From disaster relief to transit: What Canada’s cities want to hear during the federal election campaign


All politics are local politics — including a federal election campaign.

The leaders of Canada’s big cities and small towns will be intently watching the federal campaign that begins Wednesday.

Whether it’s climate change, transportation infrastructure or the opioid crisis, municipalities are hoping for significant support from the next federal government — and that help is, in many cases, contingent on the priorities of the party in power.

The Star took a look at what some cities are hoping to see federal leaders focus on during the run-up to the Oct. 21 vote.

Halifax — climate change and transportation

Just days after a major storm ripped through the Halifax region, the city’s mayor had disaster mitigation on his mind on the eve of Canada’s federal campaign.

Hurricane Dorian packed a punch throughout the province last Saturday, hitting Nova Scotia as a post-tropical storm that uprooted trees, smashed docks and ripped off roofs.

“Climate is changing. We are a coastal city. We are affected by sea-level rise, storm surge, and so we’re very anxious to see disaster mitigation and adaptation funds,” Mayor Mike Savage said Tuesday.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage pointed to council’s January decision that climate change constitutes an emergency for Halifax.

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Savage pointed to council’s January decision that climate change constitutes an emergency for Halifax, adding that storms such as Dorian will no longer be “one-time things.”

The region may have great emergency management staff in place, but that alone is not enough Savage said, adding, “We want to make sure our city is built to withstand the challenges of climate change.”

Savage said Halifax has been able to tap into federal environment funding in the past through initiatives such as the Low Carbon Cities Canada and green municipal funds, which have gone toward the Solar City program.

“Those things that help us deal with a changing climate are going to be very, very important to us and we would look to all the parties to come up with some plans to work with us as partners,” Savage said.

Reflecting on other priorities for the federal level, Savage said he echoes those outlined by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, including affordable housing and ensuring that party leaders won’t walk back the Investing in Canada infrastructure streams that have been “hugely beneficial” for the region.

It’s also important to ensure the 10-year federal transit fund rolled out by the Liberals will extend past its 2027 expiration date and become permanent, Savage said, since one of Halifax’s main challenges as a growing city is how to move people and goods effectively.

Specific funding for the city’s Integrated Mobility Plan would go a long way toward his goal of switching up the way people move around the municipality, Savage said, supporting transit, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

The recent $12.5-million federal commitment to Halifax’s All Ages and Abilities Bikeway Network project in July was a great step, he added.

“For us, I think a large part of the success of our municipality in the years to come will be determined by transportation links and making movement around our municipality more efficient, more environmentally responsible, better for people’s health and easier on the roads.”

Savage also said he’d like to see the doubling of the Gas Tax Fund transfer for municipalities in 2019-20 made permanent. The one-off “bonanza” meant an extra $26 million for Halifax, Savage said, which is “a lot of money” that would allow the city to get important projects done more quickly.

Edmonton — housing and transit

There are two key areas Edmonton’s city council will likely be focused on during the campaign, says Coun. Andrew Knack: Supportive housing and transit.

Councillor Andrew Knack said supportive housing is especially a top priority as the city committed in 2018 to building 2,500 units over the next four years as part of its Affordable Housing Plan.

Knack said city council has not discussed priorities, but he said those two issues are bound to be important ones.

He said supportive housing is especially a top priority as the city committed in 2018 to building 2,500 units over the next four years as part of its Affordable Housing Plan. To meet that goal, the city requires $509 million. Although the city has committed $132 million, it expects the rest to come from the provincial and federal governments.

“That’s one of the areas that’s still top of mind, something we are still pushing with both the provincial and federal government. To get that money flowing,” Knack said.

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Although the federal government did promise $1 billion in transit funding to Edmonton in March for Valley Line West LRT and Metro Line Northwest LRT, Knack said the city is more concerned about how fast the money will be available for those projects.

“That’s one problem is when will we actually start seeing that (money) come in and then, from there, making sure it’s ongoing,” he said.

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Calgary — LRT and economy

Calgary will officially announce the city’s federal election priorities later this week, but a few municipal issues are sure to be at the top of the list.

Stable funding and support for big infrastructure projects, specifically the enormous Green Line LRT expansion, is likely to be at the forefront of city priorities as federal politicians vie for votes. The Green Line is the most expensive project in Calgary’s history, and securing support for building the full line will be critical, since there’s currently a funding agreement only for the first phase of the transit line.

City councillor Jyoti Gondek underlined how crucial it is for federal candidates to make an effort to understand how Calgary is growing and its resulting infrastructure needs.

Councillor Jyoti Gondek underlined how crucial it is for federal candidates to make an effort to understand how Calgary is growing and its resulting infrastructure needs.

“I would hope that whoever is in government actually understands Calgary and the Alberta economy and how important it is to the rest of Canada and what we need out here for what reason,” she said.

Commitments to flood mitigation efforts in Calgary are also crucial, as the risk of another 2013-level flood is still very real for everyone who lives and works in the city.

The provincial election earlier this year underscored the fact that the economy remains top of mind, with the once-booming oil town still feeling the effects of the energy downturn.

City officials will want to see plans to support the recovery of the sluggish energy sector and entice businesses to move into downtown Calgary’s persistently empty office towers, which are creating property tax havoc in the city.

Access to affordable housing lags in Calgary, and the city will likely push for Ottawa to offer more help. Mayor Naheed Nenshi has also been championing a municipal mental health and addictions strategy, and federal support for more resources to push it ahead would likely be welcome.

Vancouver — housing and the opioid crisis

For Vancouver, increased funding for transit, overdose response and housing are likely high on the wish list.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Aug. 30, with the Vancouver mayor asking for federal support to extend the Broadway subway to the University of British Columbia. (It is currently only funded for about half of the route.)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart speak to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019.

The original request is part of a report commissioned by the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council in April, in which the council called on federal party leaders to commit to setting up a transit fund that would inject $375 million into the region per year, starting in 2028. Currently, cities receive transportation funding on a project-by-project basis.

Local transit projects that are not yet fully funded include extending the Broadway subway to UBC and building a SkyTrain between the suburbs of Surrey and Langley.

Stewart also asked the federal government for help obtaining permission for a non-profit to distribute clean opioid substitutes in Vancouver.

Vancouver led the country in responding to opioid overdoses back in 2003 when Insite opened its doors in the Downtown Eastside thanks to an exemption from Health Canada that allowed it to establish a supervised injection site, the first in the country.

But overdose deaths are still on the rise and Stewart set up a task force last year to come up with recommendations for how to improve the city’s response to the ongoing overdose crisis. One of the recommendations was to ask the federal government for $3.25 million of additional funding to bolster existing overdose prevention strategies in Vancouver.

During his August meeting with Trudeau, Stewart also brought up the issue of housing, a topic that has long plagued Vancouverites due to sky-high real estate prices. The mayor asked for federal funding to improve modular, non-profit and co-op housing “to turn the corner on the housing crisis,” Stewart said in a statement at the time.

A poll conducted by Research Co. in July revealed housing and poverty are the top issues for B.C. voters. Following that are health care and the environment. But if coupled with the issue of pipelines, the environment would tie with housing at the top of the list, according to the survey.

with files from Haley Ryan, Kash Fida, Madeline Smith and Wanyee Li





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