08 June 2008

Liberals on Supporting Municipalities

No fire in Liberal strategy for cities

When federal Liberals announced the creation last fall of a special "urban caucus" within their ranks, charged with the task of helping cities advance, Canada's municipal activists had reason to cheer. The party has a solid record on delivering a "new deal" for cities. While Liberals were in power, the GST was waived for purchases made by municipalities, money from the tax on gasoline was pumped into local budgets and public transit projects received special funding.

It would be only natural to expect a dedicated group of urban advocates within the Liberal caucus to forcefully champion new measures that would move the cities' agenda several steps forward. Unfortunately, when the caucus issued a recent discussion paper, there wasn't much push in evidence. Instead of aggressively pressing the case for municipalities, the urban caucus mostly advocated tepid and familiar measures that, while helpful, lacked essential boldness.

According to the above editorial in The Star today, the federal Liberal's Urban Communities Caucus has so far not recommended that the Party support the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' resolution that communities receive a portion of the GST.

If true, then I am disappointed.

I was Founder and Coordinator of WISE, a former group and national movement of low-income women. WISE folded in April 2008 due to changes to Status of Women Canada made by the Harper government.

The one issue which WISE pushed the hardest, since we considered it to be the most crucial for addressing inequalities in health, income, housing and social inclusion, was that of democratic and electoral reform. In democratic reform, we sought most to see more control placed into the hands of communities, backed up by the necessary financial resources. We considered this to be one sure step of encouraging citizen engagement and empowering communities to develop sustainable, robust economies.

WISE was proposing the retention of a portion of the GST by communities before Toronto mayor David Miller came forward with his resolution to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. While we supported that resolution, we didn't think it went far enough. With our proposal, it would be two cents of the (then) seven cents collected in GST, and those two cents would be retained by the communities. That is, the communities' portion wouldn't travel to the federal government to be doled out at some future date - perhaps with strings attached and as though municipalities were beggars. Instead, it would be taken at source, with the remainder forwarded to Ottawa.

Miller proposed one cent of each seven cents collected and that it be returned to communities, not retained by them. The distinction is an important one in terms of local control and signals a much-needed reversal of power.

At any rate, the Liberal website mentions that the UCC report is preliminary, so I'm hoping the UCC's final recommendations include sharing the GST with municipalities - and that the LPC adopts that recommendation.

It was also mentioned that consultations by the UCC are continuing. Whether these are with LPC members only or include the general public isn't made clear.

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