Friday, October 10, 2008

Infrastructure Blues

Royson James in his October 9th article in The Toronto Star asks the question, "Greater Toronto voters go to the polls convinced that the federal government needs to do more for the region. But how to get what is desperately needed?"

First, I question if voters are concerned because I haven't heard much about this so-called concern this election. Second, apparently Toronto and Montreal Mayors wrote a joint letter to the federal candidates, but one wouldn't know as it got such little fanfare I only learnt of it when I read James' article. Mayor Mel Lastman knew how to get attention for his city, and if he had been a signatory to such a letter, the whole country would have known about it.

James wonders how to get Toronto's 47 seats to wield some clout. I'd suggest step one would be a vocal Mayor who rallies the troops (Torontonians) and understands that there's nothing to lose so to just go for it. At the moment, Miller is behaving as if there's a lot to lose, as if Toronto is actually getting real federal funds for infrastructure and housing, and so is stepping cautiously around hypothetical political mines in case he jeopardizes that. But we're getting nothing, so how worse could it get? It's like what that homeless man who yelled at the CAW protestors at the Stephen Harper event in Toronto: one protestor pointed to a pile hidden under a white sheet and said, "That's Harper's Canada." The sheet heaved and moved and out popped a livid sun-darkened man, who jabbed his finger in the air, yelling, "This is not Harper's Canada. This is David Miller's Toronto."

Leadership is just as much the issue for Toronto as it for the country. Toronto is hurting and hurting bad, and we have a leader who not only contributes to the hurting, but won't even inspire his constituents to rally for their city or unrelentingly pressure the provincial and federal governments to get off their complacent asses and help spruce up the face of Canada to the world. (I hear you booing. Suck it up. Just like London is the face of England to the world, so is Toronto for Canada. But whereas other countries want their urban faces spiffed up and functioning well, Canada prides itself on neglecting it, just like governments do that homeless man.)

One of the big issues for Toronto -- for all Canada's cities -- is infrastructure. Given that eighty percent of the population lives in urban areas, you'd think that would be top of mind for the voters and for the candidates. After all it affects our commute times, our safety, our work productivity (can't work if can't get there), the state of our neighbourhoods, our water and sewage safety, and our competitiveness with other large cities of the world. But nope. Barely a blip. Only one I hear talking about it is Jack Layton, and that's probably because he was active in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and in Toronto politics and so understands first hand how much it affects the country's economy and tax base stability when subways don't serve the populace, trains crash, bridges fall down, sewers overflow, water doesn't get treated, and on and on.

So back we go to comparing the party platforms on this. Yes, cities are a creature of the province, the new Toronto Act nothwithstanding. Still the federal government has a big role to play in rehabilitating our urban areas, in relieving the poverty of homelessness.

For the Conservatives, infrastructure and housing is not a key issue. So what else is new. All you Toronto voters who vote Conservative have you noticed that the Tories have done nada to make your commute faster or safer or to relieve the social burden on your property taxes? Nope? Didn't think so.

The Green Party
doesn't list infrastructure as one of its key issues either. Since they so comprehensively discuss the background and the complexities of the issues -- economy, family, health care, environment, and Afghanistan -- I suspect it's in there. Infrastructure does affect a country's competitiveness as well as affecting water and air pollution, and so I'm pretty sure they would discuss it. But I just don't have the stamina to read through their extensive briefings, but if you do and are undecided, I highly recommend it.

The Liberal Party lists infrastructure under "A Richer Canada" under "Platform." They equate the infrastructure deficit to the fiscal one they slayed back in the 1990s. Just as they got rid of the fiscal deficit, so will they the infrastructure one. They estimate it at $100 billion. (The Tories just chucked a quarter of that amount of money at mortgages sans any debate or discussion with the voters.) They say all governments need to work together, and they will lead that teamwork. They're not aiming for the whole deficit, but will spend on average $7 billion per year for 10 years, probably the least amount in the first year or four as governments are wont to do. Their top priority is water and sewage and creating a green energy grid. Next expand transit and green the fleet. Next priority is the borders to facilitate movement of trade. Then small towns. And lastly sports and rec as a fit population is a healthy, productive one.

The NDP revamped their website today, and I can't find infrastructure under their plan. Too funny when in the news Layton has been the only one talking on it at all. They have a clean water act, will work on Arctic infrastructure, not just the big cities' public transit needs, and have promised one cent of the GST, phased in over five years, to the cities to provide stable, perpetual funding that allows for long-term planning of large projects that are too far behind.

In the end, the only way our Toronto MPs will represent us in Parliament is if we demand it. Are we going to rise up like that homeless man and yell the truth? Electing same old, same old, only tells our MPs that their non-action on our city needs is a-okay. With such a wealth of choice in this election, I'm not sure why people feel the need to complain about our government yet not take advantage of what we're being offered and vote for something closer to what we want. And no, politicians are not all the same; parties are not all the same. That's just a cop-out excuse to not take a chance and choose differently.

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