Platform Primer: Infrastructure

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Platform Primer: Infrastructure

In the run-up to the federal election on May 2, we’ll be comparing the major parties’ platforms on issues that matter to urban voters.

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Each party’s key messages, according their respective colours. Image by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.


Infrastructure funding is a big deal, especially for the 80 per cent of Canadians who live in cities and don’t want to have to choose between garbage pickup and clean water. Here’s what the parties have to say about what we should build and who should pay for it.

Conservatives

The Tory platform starts off with a rundown of the action they’ve been taking to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure. This is a little unfair, inasmuch as stuff like that is kind of the government’s job, and we’d be quite surprised if the NDP, for example, went out and built a highway. They’re particularly proud of the Building Canada Fund, set up in 2007 to invest in infrastructure and transportation projects across the country, including the Spadina subway extension. The Tories also increased and made permanent the Gas Tax Fund, which supports municipal capital projects, and there’s the Economic Action Plan you’ve heard so much about, designed to fund infrastructure projects and sprinkle money around during the recession. They fail to mention the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund, subject of controversy after a draft report from Auditor General Sheila Fraser indicated that some of the $50 million allocated had gone towards projects remote from and unrelated to last year’s summit in Huntsville.
The Conservative go-forward plan is essentially to continue and extend existing programs, without much detail on specific plans. They do make a point of saying that they would not fund professional sports facilities—a statement prompted by the recent uproar when it was rumoured that federal gas tax money would be used to build a hockey arena in Quebec City.

Liberals

The Liberals are dismissive of Tory infrastructure efforts, calling them “little more than
posing for pictures with big cheques in Conservative-held ridings.” Instead of doing that, the Grits propose a Canadian Transportation and Infrastructure Strategy, which they say would target economic benefits by more effectively coordinating the activities of different levels of government as well as the private sector. After reinforcing the fact that the Liberal approach will bring “clarity and cohesion” to infrastructure funding, they outline their priorities, which include highways, municipal infrastructure, local and regional transit, and high speed rail in areas where the population density supports it.
Recognizing that cities have often felt ignored by the Harper government, the Liberal platform gives a special shout-out to urbanites, saying that “A Liberal government’s Canadian Transportation and Infrastructure Strategy will address the needs and opportunities of cities, and build on their dynamism and innovation.”
The Liberals are saying the right things about how they want to spend your tax money, with the only downside to their bag of goodies being a lack of specificity as to what exactly we’re going to get and how it’s going to be paid for. Would they pony up for the Sheppard subway line? Maybe an NFL stadium down by the lake? While a platform document isn’t the place for blueprints and capital budgets, more detail would clarify what we’re being asked to vote for.

NDP

The New Democrats’ platform entry on infrastructure is short and sweet. Like the Grits, they propose a long-term infrastructure plan, with the addition of an extra cent of the existing gas tax going to public transit. They would also “continu[e] current federal infrastructure funding commitments, like those under the Building Canada Fund.”
Unsurprisingly, they advise they would put “significant” new money into affordable and social housing, although they don’t get any more specific than that. They’d finish the Mackenzie Valley Highway in the North West Territories, providing considerable economic benefits to the far north but disappointing fans of Ice Road Truckers. The NDP would also put more federal money into large-scale green energy projects, and implement a Made-in-Canada federal procurement policy for infrastructure investments.
Again, much of this is general, although their costing document does allocate $500 million towards urban public transit, and $200 million for a Federal/Provincial Infrastructure Fund that’s otherwise unmentioned in the platform.

Green Party

In their Vision Green document, the Greens offer a more comprehensive plan on infrastructure than any of the other parties, much of it focused on efficiency and sustainability.
The Greens like their railroads, and propose to overhaul the system and get more people and freight off the highways and onto the rails. They’d also build high speed rail lines in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor, and expand VIA rail to areas currently not served. Urban transit would also be a high priority for the Greens, who believe that the federal government should play a bigger role in its funding.
Other municipal actions would include more money for pedestrian, cycling, and car-sharing infrastructure, and making employer-subsidized transit passes a non-taxable benefit (while making subsidized parking a taxable benefit). They also advocate a focus on “green urban infrastructure including recycling, mass transit, energy efficiency upgrades to buildings, water conservation, and community amenities.” What they wouldn’t do is pay for highway and bridge expansions, which they view as encouraging urban sprawl and all its attendant ills.
The Greens are city-friendly, and note that Canadian municipalities are unable to collect enough revenue to cover their costs, even quoting Jane Jacobs to make the point. Along with maintaining the current gas tax commitment and directing more of it to urban areas, the Greens propose to drive more cash for cities by changing tax rules to allow Canadians to invest in RRSP-eligible municipal bonds.
The Green Party would also like to replace the existing Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund (CSIF), with six smaller funds focused on specific areas: cleaning up toxic and brownfield sites, upgrading water treatment facilities, developing green recreational and cultural facilities, improving mass transit, and supporting pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
The Green infrastructure plan is the most fleshed out of any of the parties, and on the surface looks surprisingly—though not easily—doable.

The Upshot

Everybody recognizes that infrastructure needs to be funded, built, and maintained, so extra points for detail in this round. The Tories tell us what they’ve already done, but don’t say a whole lot about how they’re going to do it better, nor how places like Toronto would benefit. The Liberals talk a lot about putting a strategy in place, but only at a very high level about what that strategy would be. The NDP are succinct, but at least give some specific ideas about what they’d do, although how much interest a road to Tuktoyaktuk holds for southern urbanites remains to be seen. As noted earlier, the Greens have far and away the most detailed and interesting proposals, but without proportional representation we’ll be unlikely to see any of them discussed in the House of Commons.

For more on the federal election, check out our politics hub, with a complete guide to every riding in Toronto. For all the details on their policy plans, also check out the platforms of the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party.

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