Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 09/2/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Hundreds of thousands of Winnipeggers are, as we speak, readying themselves to choose the city's next mayor in October's civic election.
We're wondering which of the candidates will restore trust and integrity in city hall. Or find a way to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. Or sustain key services without crippling property taxpayers with unbearable increases.
To reach our decision, we will look at their policies and pledges. We'll assess the sincerity of their campaigns, the quality of their character and the depth of their intelligence.
However, regardless of who wins this fall's election, the fate of this city and its next mayor will likely be determined by events that take place many thousands of kilometres away. Specifically, in Ottawa on Parliament Hill.
During the next year, the federal Conservative government will introduce a budget and face an election of its own. It is widely expected the Tories will move to lower taxes and introduce some new spending to pave the way to another majority government.
For the new mayor of Winnipeg, those decisions will determine how much federal support for infrastructure flows from federal coffers to the provinces and down to the municipalities. If federal funding stays at current rates -- about $5 billion per year -- then anyone with the misfortune of having won a mayoral election will find their lives very unpleasant indeed.
We already have a strong inkling that help will not be forthcoming.
Last week in Charlottetown, Canada's premiers gathered for the annual Council of the Federation meeting. Many things were discussed, but only one major theme emerged: The provinces are deep in deficit and debt and federal restraint on transfer payments and other funding arrangements looks as if it will make a bad situation worse.
Specifically, the premiers are deeply concerned about their ability to pay for health care and infrastructure.
The Conservative government in Ottawa has imposed funding formulas on both needs that involve billions of dollars of federal tax dollars. Unfortunately, the provinces -- most of which are deep in deficit -- have complained those billions of dollars fall billions of dollars short of what is needed to meet growing demand in both health and infrastructure. And in almost every regard, they are right.
Ottawa created a formula for health-care funding that's based on GDP growth and inflation. Unfortunately, given an aging population, neither of those two measurements has any relation to the increasing demand on the health system.
A similar disconnect afflicts the infrastructure file.
The Tories will celebrate their 10-year, $50-billion Building Canada infrastructure program as an act of gross generosity. In fact, $5 billion annually over a decade will, lamentably, leave Canada with worse overall infrastructure than when it was launched.
How can this be? As in many developed countries, Canada's aging infrastructure inventory was largely built from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. As a result, bridges, arenas, roads and sewage systems are all failing, all at the same time.
Even worse, since that building boom, our overall investment in infrastructure has been declining as a percentage of GDP, in large part because Ottawa has dramatically reduced its share of total infrastructure spending.
At the Council of the Federation, all the premiers -- from petroleum-rich provinces to those with little of the black gold -- were united in their view Ottawa needs to drastically change the funding of health services and infrastructure, or risk the fiscal collapse of the provinces and local governments.
This will be the issue for Winnipeg's next mayor. Although the mayor will have to respond to many different needs, infrastructure will be the most pressing. And if the new mayor is to have any hope of doing better than his/her predecessor, it will have to involve a change in federal policy.
Unfortunately for the new mayor, it is widely believed the federal Conservatives will use next spring's budget to announce two things: first, that the budget is balanced, if not in surplus; and second, a balanced budget is an opportunity to cut more taxes.
Although the fiscal equation is quite complicated, it is not unfair to say that every tax dollar we get back from that budget will be a dollar that cannot be spent on meeting provincial and local government infrastructure needs.
We should hold our next mayor to account for every decision he/she makes. However, it's also fair to remember the next mayor can only be as good as the resources he/she gets to meet our most pressing needs.
Right now, it looks like the next mayor is going to be dealt a pretty bad hand.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 2, 2014 B3
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Son needs to get help for troubled girlfriend
Calling all carnivores
Redrawing the map
Time to act is now
New, not necessarily exciting
A fond farewell to my buddy, Dale
There's no mystery here; Messing's new show stinks
You are just a pit stop in life for indifferent lover, so drive on
Bye week should be more flexible
Voters driven to distraction on bus rapid transit
Dragging the river of pain in hopes of closure
Science vs. sentiment
Stress to conceive is killing your relationship
Gut-check time for Bombers
CMHR's future is up to us all
Putting spotlight on all Canada's vulnerable
Corea's adventures continue with new project
I'll sleep with CEOs to aid the homeless
Fest features teen lust, walrus masks and a bit of Boogaloo
Disastrous dinner date potentially dangerous
Move away from 'god' and find a single man
Have 127 hours of outdoors adventure
The last police witness
Scottish revolt on conservatives
Cold and wet harvest season adds to producers' challenges
Following in his father's PoW footsteps
Not your usual feminist icon
Boyfriend goes tit-for-tat with body-part insult
Film follows Bell's musical path
Across the borderline
Dress for success
Getting educated about RESPs
Argo-nots not an option
Firing young PC staffer over blog wasn't smart
A smooth, frothy, rich and sweet reason to celebrate
'Come on, get happy' works
Franklin's errors should inform Canada's map for Northwest Passage
Game on: It's election time on the Hill