Earlier this month, the House of Commons endorsed the Liberal strategy for working with cities and communities by passing a Liberal motion to permanently transfer gas tax funds to cities and communities.
The gas tax is the cornerstone of the Liberal “New Deal for Cities.” It gave Canada’s municipalities guaranteed funds that they were able to count on for five years at a time.
Clearly the will of Parliament is to make the gas tax transfer permanent for Canadian cities and communities. It’s now up to the government to act.
Implemented by the Liberal government in 2005, the “New Deal for Cities” is a unique funding arrangement between the federal government, provincial governments, and Canadian cities and communities.
The deal provides funding for a wide range of infrastructure needs depending on the province, including public transit, drinking water, wastewater, active transportation infrastructure, and roads and bridges.
In 2005, the Liberal government renewed a number of infrastructure programs, including the Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund (MRIF) and the Public Transit Capital Trust (PTCT).
These were intended to be seven-year, $11.5-billion commitments.
The Conservative government took away $7.5 billion of that funding, putting it toward the Building Canada Fund that is only now getting up and running more than six months after the budget announcement.
The government also is “sunsetting” (that means cancelling in government speak) the MRIF program and has set aside only $1.5 billion for 2007-08 and $1.1 billion for 2008-09 applications.
In Ontario, the COMRIF website hasn’t been updated since April and there is no indication when the call for applications will occur, which leaves municipalities struggling to plan for the 2008 construction season.
Over the long-term, the loss of specialized rural funding for municipal infrastructure will make it increasingly difficult for small communities to get the financial help they need to improve roads, bridges, and water systems.
My colleagues and I have raised these concerns in the House of Commons, and we will continue to press the government to address the need for infrastructure funds for municipalities of all sizes.