‘No One Could Afford To Live Here’

Necessary repairs to urban roads and utilities are so costly the unfunded expense would break Canadian cities without federal aid, mayors say.

“If we tried to finance it all with property taxes no one could afford to live in their homes,” said Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion.

City leaders joined the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) in pressing for renewal of federal public works subsidies, due to expire in 2014.

McCallion, 91, a twelve-term mayor, said it will take $50 billion to upgrade infrastructure in Greater Toronto “if we’re going to make an impact on gridlock.”

The federal government has promised some renewal of a $33 billion Building Canada program to expire in two years, though terms and conditions of subsidies have not been detailed.

“We’re falling behind,” said Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr, who joined McCallion and other municipal leaders in appealing for federal assistance in Ottawa. Zehr said his city “cannot afford” repairs without federal help.

“It’s like a ticking time bomb,” said Zehr. “Without good infrastructure, the economy will start to suffer.”

Municipalities in a Nov. 13 report, The Road To Jobs And Growth, said federal planners “must break the old cycle of short-term thinking and one-off funding that caused Canada’s municipal infrastructure deficit to balloon over the past two decades.”

The FCM has requested 20-year funding projections with focused investment, including $1 billion to reduce commute times in Canada’s largest urban areas.

“Infrastructure is crumbling; traffic congestion is brutal,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, chair of the federation’s Big City Mayors’ Caucus. “This is a significant threat to our economy, to attracting new investment, and to the quality of life of all Canadians.”

The federation estimates 1 in 4 urban roads is congested and half need immediate repair, despite cities’ investment of $12 billion a year in infrastructure.

“Cities are ready to do our part,” said Robertson. “We call on the federal government to stay with us.”

The nation’s mayors and councilors have urged cabinet to detail terms of renewed public works subsidies by next spring, to permit time for planning, engineering and tendering of contracts.

By Alex Binkley

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