“Gridlock belongs on federal list,” May 6, 2011
I’m glad that the President of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities took my proposal to decentralize infrastructure spending seriously enough to respond. I’m also encouraged by the fact that he did not disagree in principle with the idea. However, I have two issues with his response.
First, he minimized the problem. His claim that half of infrastructure spending comes from municipalities is correct. But the debate over infrastructure spending has always been focused on capital spending, the majority of which comes from senior levels of government. In Alberta, it’s funded entirely by the province. As long as municipalities rely on higher levels of government, they’ll be forced to balance the needs of the city against political needs of senior governments. There’s no better example than Toronto’s Sheppard Subway line—a line from nowhere, to nowhere, and through nowhere. The province financed the tiny stub known as the Sheppard line by canceling the far more practical Eglinton line. Bad planning often makes good politics. Had the decision been left up to Toronto voters alone, this wouldn’t have happened.
Second, he said that if higher levels of government propose to give municipalities taxing power, the municipalities would be happy to sit down with them. The deferential tone is the problem. Unless municipalities are willing to forcefully make the case to the public that decentralization is essential, higher levels of government won’t bother with it. Federal and provincial politicians love controlling the purse strings. Having the ability to funnel money to politically important areas works out well for them. The FCM is a powerful lobby group, so there is no reason why they should hedge their bets by backing band aid solutions. The ball is in the FCMs court.