VANCOUVER – The B.C. government’s controversial new recycling program took effect Monday, irking some local business owners who say that additional costs will drive up the price of consumer goods.
The new regulations require that all businesses that supply packaging and printed paper to B.C. residential customers be responsible for collecting and recycling the material once customers are done with it.
Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, says this will create additional costs for businesses, which will pass the extra expenses onto consumers.
“Producers will be adding costs to food, newspapers, and other things distributed to retailers, then retailers will extend their traditional markup to consumers,” wrote Huberman in an email. “This additional cost will make them less competitive with competitors from other provinces and countries.”
[quote]In Ontario, cardboard is being charged at eight cents a kilogram while in B.C. this program is at 29 cents a kilogram — this is huge.[/quote]
Huberman says that B.C.’s recycling fees should be reduced to match those in Ontario.
MMBC says it’s addressing concerns
However, the director of the non-profit organization overseeing the new recycling program on behalf of 940 companies says the increased costs from the new rules would only hurt small businesses, who are generally exempt from the new regulations anyway.
“I think the exemptions that have been announced by the government address many of the concerns with respect to small business,” said Allan Langdon of Multi-Material BC in an interview.
He says businesses that either make less than $1 million in sales, produce less than 1,000 kilograms of print and packaging or businesses that do not operate as a chain or franchise are exempt from the new program.
“From our perspective that’s really taken away the impact on the kind of small businesses that maybe have had a problem with the administration or costs,” he said.
3,000 businesses affected
Langdon says up to 3,000 corporations are affected by the new regulations and those companies who are not signed onto Multi-Material BC will have to co-ordinate their own recycling efforts.
About 1.25 million households started receiving service from the non-profit organization as of Monday, he said.
In municipalities where there are already recycling trucks, Multi-Material BC has offered cash incentives to help foot the bill, while some areas that don’t have curbside service will be seeing pickups for the first time.
Collection services for the North Okanagan, the Trail area, Rossland, the Castlegar area, Coquitlam, Anmore, Prince George and Quesnel will be phased in during the next few months starting Monday, Langdon said.
For consumers who are already putting out their recycling bins, perhaps the most noticeable change will be that some municipalities will be asking their residents to separate glass from other recycled goods.
Langley, Richmond and possibly Burnaby will implement separate glass collection bins, Langdon said.
This will prevent glass from being shattered and contaminated, which ensures that it will get recycled, he said.
The change is being implemented because Multi-Material BC is required to measure how much material is recycled — not just how much is picked up, he said.
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.” That was American architect Daniel Burnham’s city-planning advice at the turn of the 20th century.
More than 100 years later, he couldn’t be more wrong. Big, top-down building projects no longer stir the imaginations of North American city dwellers. Now people are excited about little changes to our urban fabric.
Small projects sprout up through cracks of urban landscape
Small, creative projects that make cities more livable are popping up in unexpected places: alleys, front yards, vacant lots and parking spaces. Whether its yarn-bombed street furniture, roadway parking turned to mini-parkettes or guerrilla gardens in overlooked spaces, these often-unauthorized interventions are helping to transform properties and neighbourhoods, one light, quick, cheap tweak at a time.
Passersby were encouraged to write their desires for green improvements. Neighbours began meeting. One family filled a perpetual pothole with flowers. Others put benches in their front yards to begin “parkifying” the block. Graffiti knitters yarn-bombed the chain-link fence. An artist and local kids created a DIY outdoor version of fridge magnet poetry with plastic pipes cut in half, painted with words and hung on the fence with simple S-hooks. Two garden planters were dug into spots where trees had perished.
From asphalt to bee haven
This spring, residents successfully funded a project to replace the entire stretch of asphalt with a large pollinator-friendly garden. There’s even talk of removing the fence. The ripple effect: People from nearby streets have started organizing their own interventions, like a pollinator garden at the neighbourhood daycare and moss graffiti in an alleyway. As resident Anjum Chagpar said, “Inspiration breeds inspiration. Simple, fun interventions are contagious.”
Replacing pavement with a pollinator garden on one small street won’t solve the vast issues our communities face, but little spaces perhaps hold the greatest potential. To make our cities truly green, we must bring nature to the oft-neglected bits between parks and existing green areas. Streets and sidewalks alone account for about 80 per cent of a city’s public space. Private spaces like yards, rooftops and balconies cover more than half the urban landscape. Stretching our visions of urban green space to include these allows us to reimagine the city as a vibrant green mosaic.
Homegrown Design Challenge
Squeezing more nature into cities requires creativity. It also needs buy-in from homeowners, property managers and experts from fields like landscape architecture and urban planning.
That’s why the David Suzuki Foundation and Workshop Architecture launched the Homegrown Design Challenge, an open competition that provides an opportunity to present ideas for low-cost, easy-to-implement landscape design solutions for front yards, backyards, balconies, schoolyards and laneways that provide environmental benefits, like capturing storm-water during severe weather events and providing habitat for birds, bees and butterflies.
“While we expect interest from architects, landscape architects, designers and planners, the competition is open to anyone with innovative green design ideas,” said Helena Grdadolnik, Workshop Architecture competition organizer.
Daniel Burnham lived in a time when telegrams were cutting-edge. Today good ideas can spread from community to community across the globe almost instantaneously.
Growing design ideas
So it’s no surprise that a growing number of design competitions and events are celebrating urban interventions, from PARK(ing) Day, which highlights the transformation of parking spots into temporary public spaces in 35 countries, to 100-in-1 Day, which will be held this year on June 7 in Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver to celebrate citizen-led initiatives that “raise awareness of urban and social issues, inspire ideas, and motivate leaders to consider new approaches to old problems.”
If a project requires start-up dollars, crowd-funding websites help organizers raise money in mere days or weeks. Sites like Projexity.com enable groups and individuals to fund, design and build projects in their neighbourhoods.
What can we take from this revolutionary wave of small, creative interventions? That residents can play an active, hands-on role in transforming the places they live, work, play and share. Making your community truly greener is a tall order. But starting small can pay big dividends.
With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Homegrown National Park Project lead Jode Roberts.
In railing against everything from bike lanes to transit spending, pundits and politicians often raise the spectre of a “war on cars.” Of course, there is no war on cars – but there should be.
Cars directly kill and hurt more people every year than most diseases, resulting in 1.5 million deaths and 78 million injuries needing medical care, according to the World Bank. Road injury is the eighth leading cause of death worldwide. Pollution from cars also causes acute and chronic health problems that often result in premature death – from heart disease and stroke to respiratory illness and lung cancer.
Because many people, especially North Americans, can’t conceive of a world without cars for everyone, we overlook major problems caused by our private automobile obsession. We’re rightly outraged when a company like General Motors ignores faulty ignition switches in some of its vehicles, thought to have caused 13 deaths over 13 years. The massive recall that followed was justified and necessary. But as a headline on Treehugger’s website argues, “It’s time for a bigger recall of a seriously defective product: The Car.”
The article continues:
Since we can’t recall every car all at once and redesign the entire country, there are at least things we can do to make it less [quote]bad. Significantly reduce speed limits. Make drivers pay the full cost of infrastructure construction and maintenance through the gas tax. Build the cost of medical care for those millions of injured by cars into the price of gas. Invest in walkable cities and alternative forms of transport.[/quote]
Seattle newsweekly The Stranger, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, created a 2011 manifesto for a real war on cars. “We demand that car drivers pay their own way, bearing the full cost of the automobile-petroleum-industrial complex that has depleted our environment, strangled our cities, and drawn our nation into foreign wars,” it says.
[quote]Reinstate the progressive motor vehicle excise tax, hike the gas tax, and toll every freeway, bridge, and neighborhood street until the true cost of driving lies as heavy and noxious as our smog-laden air.[/quote]
Drivers need better alternatives
As Treehugger notes, we can’t shift from car-centric societies overnight. And until we find ways to better design our urban areas, many people will continue to rely on cars. After all, in the “developed” world, and increasingly in the developing world, we privilege private automobiles when creating infrastructure, often at the expense of what we need for public transit, walking and cycling.
Car and oil companies bought and dismantled public transit
Some even claim automobile and oil companies bought and dismantled streetcar and urban rail lines from the mid-1930s to the 1950s to sell more cars and oil. Fuel efficiency wasn’t a concern because, before pollution and climate change impacts were known, gas sale profits were a priority. Many factors were involved in the development of car culture, but we now find ourselves in an era when much of our oil is burned to propel mostly single users in inefficient vehicles.
Although we can’t stop using cars altogether, we can curtail their damage to people and the environment. We can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting back on car use, choosing fuel-efficient vehicles, joining a car pool or sharing program and reducing speed. At the policy level, we need increased investment in public transit and cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, stronger fuel-efficiency standards, reduced speed limits, higher gas taxes and human-centric urban design.
Besides combatting pollution and climate change, reduced dependency on private automobiles will lead to healthier people, fewer deaths and injuries and livable cities with happier citizens. And that’s worth fighting for!
With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.
The following is a letter from Common Sense Canadian economic columnist and Gabriola Island resident Erik Andersen to Nanaimo city council, which is hearing arguments on a controversial, proposed waste incinerator at Duke Point this evening.
Over the past several decades the City of Nanaimo has single-mindedly pursued a course of beautifying the City by putting behind itself its industrial past of coal mining and logging. Gradually success has and is being achieved.
The prospect of a garbage incinerator at Duke Point, or anywhere else near by, will only undo these decades of progress.
Studies show incinerators seriously affect property values
Numerous reports and studies show that a devaluation of property values occurs with an uglification event and garbage incinerators top the negative event list.
A 1993 study, sponsored by the US EPA, written by Katherine Kiel and Katherine McClain, states that “individuals who live close to an incinerator will experience declines in housing values.”
“Studies in Andover, Massachusetts strongly correlated 10% property devaluations with close incinerator proximity.”
[quote]In 2006, Cleveland State University professor Robert Simons coauthored a paper that looked at 58 peer-reviewed articles dealing with the effects of environment contamination on real estate. In the case of waste incinerators, Simons said that the value of nearby real estate could fall over 10 percent depending on whether the land is downwind of the of the facility and on other factors, such as the amount of truck traffic. However, Simons cautioned that if there are problems at the incinerator site or if it becomes notorious as a result of an accident, property values in the vicinity could drop 10 to 20 percent. He also said that if dioxins are found in nearby soil, that could result in a loss of up to 40 percent in value.[/quote]
Island residents could lose $1.5 Billion
So what would be the financial penalty imposed on the property owners of Nanaimo and vicinity should a garbage incinerator appear at Duke Point? Nanaimo, Gabriola, Lantzville and nearby rural areas, such as Cedar and Yellowpoint are valued at $15.491 billion for assessment year 2014.
Following just the talk of a garbage incinerator for Duke Point, the process of devaluation of property values has started. With an acceptance of the incineration project there is every indication from the experience of others that collectively we will suffer a roll back in total value of $1.5 billion.
No amount of arguing will influence the process of devaluation as markets are driven only by perception. Nanaimo will be perceived as the host of an ugly process, incineration of an awful lot of the garbage of others.
The $1.5 billion does not include the present value of elevated medical costs created from toxic pollution; nor the present value of losses in regional GDP; nor the present value of property devaluations due to incinerator mismanagement. Add these in and the total social losses/costs would exceed $3 billion.
As for metro Vancouver, their garbage disposal issue is just about NIMBIZIM. Why would Nanaimo volunteer to bail them out?
TORONTO – With the prospect of an election growing more likely every day, the minority Liberals’ spring budget may turn out to be more campaign platform than peace treaty.
It will also need to lay out a plan to fund a massive expansion of public transit in the vote-rich Greater Toronto and Hamilton area — one of their key promises — without raising taxes for the middle class.
Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised that a new “revenue stream” to raise the estimated $2 billion a year that’s needed to fund public transit will be unveiled in the budget, expected May 1.
But she’s ruled out a hike in the HST, gas tax and personal income tax for middle-income families, which has been defined in finance documents as individuals earning between $25,000 to $75,000 a year.
Increased corporate taxes could help pay for transit
Wynne could raises taxes for businesses or higher-income earners — something the kingmaker New Democrats could support.
Last December, a government-appointed panel recommended that the Liberals raise corporate taxes to 12 per cent, coupled with other measures such as hiking the gas tax and the Harmonized Sales Tax.
Metrolinx, the provincial transit authority, had proposed a 15 per cent increase in development charges for businesses, as well as an average 25 cents per day off-street parking levy, among other “revenue tools.”
However, the parking charge could be passed on to drivers who use those spaces in places like shopping malls. As well, both measures on their own won’t raise the billions of dollars annually that’s needed.
“Green bonds” offer alternate funding tool
Experts say there is another option: so-called “green bonds,” which the government plans to issue this year.
Green bonds are a relatively new financing tool, intended to raise money that’s used exclusively to support projects with specific environmental benefits.
It will require legislation and certification, but the Liberals say it won’t be a confidence vote that could topple the government.
Green bonds would be a part of Ontario’s regular borrowing program, but that portion will be dedicated to environmentally friendly transit projects, officials say.
They argue the bonds would capitalize on the province’s ability to raise funds at low interest rates and save money over the long term because there are many investors who are prepared to pay to invest in specific green initiatives.
Green bonds are more appealing to investors if they have a competitive return relative to regular bonds, experts say.
Investors want green options: TD economist
Many investors would go the green route, all things being equal, said senior TD economist Sonya Gulati.
But green bonds have additional administrative costs. They have to be certified and monitored to ensure the money is being spent appropriately.
Right now, the World Bank is the big issuer of green bonds, but it has the expertise so it doesn’t incur extra costs, said Gulati. There may be additional fees attached if a government or corporation issue green bonds.
When those costs are passed on to consumers, they tend to be received poorly and rarely reach maximum subscription.
But at the end of the day, green bonds are still debt, said Mike Moffatt, a professor of business, economics and public policy at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.
Debt servicing now province’s third biggest budget item
Servicing Ontario’s estimated $272.8-billion net debt — which has doubled since the Liberals took office in 2003 — is the third-largest government expenditure after health care and education.
If the Liberals plan to issue green bonds to fund transit in addition to the regular bonds they issue each year, that could become a problem, said Moffatt.
“There’s already concerns that the Ontario government is getting itself into a little too much debt, so if they keep compounding that by issuing more and more debt, it’s going to make a problem the province has even worse,” he said.
Spending more on servicing the provincial debt means less money spent on public services and government programs. It could also mean they won’t hit their deficit-shrinking targets.
Gridlock costing Toronto $6 billion a year
The Liberals have argued that improving public transit can’t be put off, that gridlock in the Toronto region is already costing the economy $6 billion a year.
While green bonds may save the Liberals’ political hides by avoiding new taxes, it does come at a cost, said Moffatt.
[quote]There’s no free lunch here. The transit’s going to get paid for, one way or another.[/quote]
“Either it’s going to get paid for by higher taxes or it’s going to get paid for by a higher debt, which means either higher taxes or less spending in the future.”
An innovative new method for tracking the transport industry’s fuel consumption may hold the key to reducing carbon emissions, according to a group of academics and industry representatives.
Government partner Natural Resources Canada explains, “The SmartWay Transport Partnership is a collaboration designed to help businesses reduce fuel costs while transporting goods in the cleanest most efficient way possible.”
Originally developed in 2004 by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the program was adopted in Canada in 2012 by the Supply Chain Management Association (SCMA) and Natural Resources Canada. It offers shippers the opportunity to choose carriers based on their emissions rating – the transportation equivalent of “Certified Organic” food labelling.
SmartWay enables companies to measure vital emission factors such as fuel consumption, mileage and payload data. Once collected and entered into the system, the data is available for review by shippers who want to lower their carbon footprint.
[quote]Historically, shippers have focused on cost, service and quality when choosing a carrier. However, sustainability has a chance of becoming a fourth consideration on par with the others.[/quote]
Climate scholars, government embrace program
The transportation industry is one of the biggest producers of climate change-causing CO2, says UBC associate professor and logistics expert Garland Chow. In Canada, the sector contributes 25% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the federal government.
Last year, with the financial support of Natural Resources Canada, the SCMA’s Chow led a nationwide survey of 169 shippers and logistics providers. The results, published in January, provide valuable insight into how Canadian companies view sustainability and make decisions affecting greenhouse gas emissions.
Helping industry go green
SCMA project manager Alison Toscano says the transportation industry is responsible for a large and “growing share” of air pollutants, which is why SCMA has been holding information sessions across Canada to show companies how they can be more green.
“SCMA has also been conducting one-on-one meetings with target companies to make them aware of the program,” says Toscano.
In the first quarter of 2014, meetings have been held across Canada in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.
“Our motivation is to encourage industry to be more green,” Chow says.
Sustainability becomes a consideration for shippers and carriers
Historically, shippers have focused on cost, service and quality when choosing a carrier. However, sustainability has a chance of becoming a fourth consideration on par with the others.
Both shippers and carriers can make use of SmartWay in their own unique ways.
Natural Resources Canada explains the value of the program as follows:
Shippers can use SmartWay to:
Compare the environmental performance of carriers
Calculate their freight carbon footprint
Qualify to use the SmartWay Transport Partnership logo
Carriers can use SmartWay to:
Market themselves to shippers that are concerned about emissions
Benchmark themselves against industry peers
Qualify to use the SmartWay Transport Partnership logo
Shippers, as the customer, can put pressure on individual carriers to be more sustainable when they transport goods.
But it won’t be easy. Chow says fewer than 5% of the companies surveyed would be willing to make capital investments – such as buying more fuel efficient transport vehicles – to support sustainability if it negatively affected profits.
A win-win solution
Thankfully, it’s not a zero sum game. The most effective ways of reducing emissions often have the effect of increasing profits, which is a win-win situation.
According Toscano, in many instances, companies will see a return on investment within two to three years.
“There’s no reason why you can’t earn a profit and be sustainable at the same time,” Chow says.
[quote]Many sustainability practices are actions that should be taken to increase efficiencies anyway.[/quote]
The most commonly used sustainability practices involve optimizing:
Trip movement by making delivery routes as direct as possible
How goods are fitted into shipping containers
Using the most efficient means of transport, such as rail
Using more energy efficient vehicles, such as natural gas powered trucks
Training drivers correctly is also important says Alison Toscano, a SCMA project manager.
[quote]Even if you have the most fuel efficient trucks, if the operators drive them like Ferraris, it defeats the purpose.[/quote]
Taking the guesswork out of improved efficiency
For too long, shippers and carriers have only been able to guess at efficiency improvements.
“If you can’t measure the performance that you’re looking for, you can’t manage it,” says Chow.
That’s where the SmartWay system comes in. “Shippers that select SmartWay-registered carriers can see very clearly those who have reduced their emissions,” Toscano says, offering sustainable carriers a competitive advantage.
SCMA says on its website that SmartWay won’t improve operations directly, but it helps companies understand where improvements can be made.
Measurements better prepare companies for carbon taxes
Measurements are also important for forward-thinking executives who recognize that carbon taxes might be inevitable. British Columbia, for instance, has already implemented such taxes. In other provinces and territories, some companies are preparing for that eventuality. A true carbon tax would be levied on all emissions, unlike performance regulations that only set limits on certain industries.
“It’s a matter of risk management,” Chow says.
[quote]If you are not already measuring your emissions, if and when a tax is implemented, you’ll be forced to play catch up.[/quote]
The implication is that judicious companies would have the upper hand over competitors scrambling to meet new regulations.
Consumers support green companies
Government is not the only source of pressure for shippers and carriers to be more sustainable. Consumers are increasingly rewarding green companies with their patronage. Companies are responding by increasingly adopting programs that address environmental concerns. They market their involvement by showcasing environmental program logos on product labels or websites. The idea is to demonstrate their commitment to the environment.
“Now you can communicate your data to your customers, and show them why they should buy from you and not your competitors,” says Chow. “You can show how being more efficient is the same thing as lighting 5,000 homes, or taking ten trucks off the road every day, or planting six trees.”
But Dr. Gwen O’Sullivan of Mount Royal University cautions against ‘green-washing’. According to her, consumers don’t always know what these programs represent.
[quote]Sometimes it looks like companies are taking big steps, but what is the reality?[/quote]
Clearly, there’s a long road ahead for the transport industry to become more sustainable, but programs like SmartWay help put companies on the right path.
Jesse Yardley has over 15 years experience in communications and has owned and managed two successful businesses in Calgary, AB. He is currently enrolled in the journalism program at Mount Royal University.
A battle has been brewing in recent months over the future of Langley, BC – a rural community on the edge of Metro Vancouver, known as the horse capital of the province.
Plans to triple the density of one Langley Township neighbourhood – Brookswood and Fernridge – over the next several decades have roiled local residents intent on protecting the rural nature of their community. A rally yesterday drew hundreds of protestors on the eve of council’s vote on the density plan.
Lifelong Brookswood resident Ann-Michelle Dereus noted that she isn’t opposed to development, but that this proposal goes overboard in terms of density:
[quote]We’ve been saying that we want the environment protected, yet the final proposal that came out was the densest one to date.[/quote]
The plan would involve rezoning much of the largely detached home community for condos and townhouses, with an increase to the local population of 13,000 to some 42,000.
Langley Township Council will vote on the plan tonight.
Money, money, money. Just like the ABBA song says; it makes the world go round. Our garbage is the newest target for those who love only money and lots of it.
A decade ago some of those sharpest guys in the room, runaways from bankrupting Enron, secured legal authority from President Bush over all the production and distribution of electricity in North America, yes even Canada. The “North American Electricity Reliability Corporation” (NERC) came into being. It was given the “authority to monitor and enforce compliance” of electricity to over 334 million people; installed production capacity of 1,200 gigawatts ; 211,000 miles of high voltage transmission lines and more than one trillion of assets value.
Your Provincial government has legally embraced this model because the corporate interests outside of the province wanted it so. Knowing this might help your understanding of how BC Hydro has become such a financial basket case and blatantly indifferent to its BC customer needs and wishes.
Privatizing paper, garbage, recycling
The newest model of this concentration of taxing power over the citizens of BC, and an abdication of responsibility and accountability by our provincial government, is “Multi Material British Columbia” (MMBC). This “non-profit” enterprise says it “will assume responsibility for managing residential packaging and printed paper (PPP) on behalf of industry in May 2014”. It is an artificially constructed monopoly designed to give private and privileged interest unearned premiums that invariably come from an exaggerated unnecessary amount of economic concentration.
[quote]BC Recycling Regulation was updated in 2011 to shift responsibility for managing the residential recycling of PPP from local governments and their taxpayers to businesses that produce these materials.[/quote]
Don’t like it? How about a $200,000 fine!
Now have you ever read such lovely piece of self-serving propaganda? This is published on behalf of an unelected Board of Directors who are all from large corporations headquartered in Ontario. Just so you know, these people have a big hammer; they will have the legal authority to fine those who are in non-compliance up to $200,000 per event.
So where does this all lead you may well ask? The design is simple. Your Government does not want to have local governments continue to be in charge of garbage disposal because it is too democratic. It wants to enable those who lust after building large incinerators and want the ability of imposing large processing fees for 35 years or more on all of us, to get their way.
By this design, the government is deliberately substituting investment capital for labor, which is ironic given the continuing propaganda by the Premier about job, jobs, jobs. It must be one of those occasions where cabinet members failed to connect the dots; or maybe not.
Canada’s federal government recently announced $14 billion in new funding to help municipalities repair and replace aging infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, sewer lines, energy production and distribution systems, and subways and other public transit. About $1 billion is dedicated to smaller communities, but most of the funding will target urban areas, which makes sense.
Despite being a vast land of mountains, forests and ice, Canada is an urban nation. Over 80 per cent of us live in large centres like Montreal, Toronto and Calgary, as well as rapidly growing communities like Regina, Surrey and Markham.
[quote]Though they retain only a paltry eight cents of every tax dollar paid in Canada, municipalities must cover 60 per cent of the cost of their infrastructure.[/quote]
Rapid urbanization is a global trend
This increasing concentration of people in cities is consistent with rapid urbanization over the whole planet. Now more than half the world’s population resides in urban mega-regions – and these are increasingly driving the global economy.
Over 60 per cent of world GDP is generated in just 600 cities. This includes international financial hubs like New York City and London, but also emerging powerhouse markets in the developing world, such São Paulo and Mexico City, as well as Guangzhou, Tianjin and other urban centres in China. According to a study by CIBC World Markets, the Greater Toronto Area accounts for about a fifth of Canada’s total economic activity, though prairie cities like Regina are emerging as the country’s new economic tigers.
Although many Canadian cities are booming, their ability to survive and thrive in today’s hyper-connected, globalized economy depends on being competitive enough to attract investment and acquire and retain skilled workers from around the globe.
Canadian cities face widening infrastructure deficit
And to really flourish, municipal centres need infrastructure. As noted in a Federation of Canadian Municipalities study, “Our small businesses need quality roads and bridges to deliver goods and services. Our workers need fast, efficient public transit to connect them to new jobs. And our companies need access to affordable housing and high-quality community services, from libraries to hockey rinks, to recruit skilled workers.”
Unfortunately, Canadian municipalities lack the fiscal tools to generate the billions of dollars needed each year to maintain and expand essential infrastructure. Though they retain only a paltry eight cents of every tax dollar paid in Canada, municipalities must cover 60 per cent of the cost of their infrastructure. And though a portion of taxes paid at gas pumps is dedicated to municipal infrastructure through the federal Gas Tax Fund, maintenance costs are increasingly being downloaded onto citizens through user fees, road tolls and transit fare increases.
Starving Canadian cities of cash further increases the nation’s municipal infrastructure deficit – which already stood at $123 billion in 2007. And Canadians feel the pain every day, in the form of crumbling roads, mind-numbing and wasteful traffic jams and deteriorating bus, subway and streetcar services.
Poor public transit the Achilles’ heel of urban development
A survey of urban experts and other “city-builders” by engineering firm Siemens concluded that poor public transit is the Achilles’ heel of urban development and is keeping many Canadian cities from achieving greatness.
The problem is, unlike many European and American counterparts, Canadian cities don’t have dedicated and sustained federal funding for core infrastructure needs, most notably public transit. For example, Toronto currently ranks 15th out of 21 large global cities on per capita investment in public transit – well behind sixth-placed New York City, which spends twice as much. And Canada is the only country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development without a national transit strategy.
The failure to address transit funding – for capital and operational costs – has left residents in Toronto and its surrounding suburbs spending more time battling congestion to get to and from work than commuters in any other North American city. The Toronto Board of Trade estimates this costs the Greater Toronto Area economy $6 billion a year in lost productivity.
Time to make urban investment a priority
Canada’s growing cities have suffered from political indifference and inaction for too long. It’s all about priorities, and building world-class cities through federal investments in much-needed infrastructure should be at the top of the list.
Ottawa’s funding announcement offers an opportunity to rectify the historical imbalance in political priorities. Investing in municipal infrastructure will ensure that our cities succeed in a global economy.
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario and Northern Canada Director General Faisal Moola.