One per cent solution for infrastructure
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/09/2011 (4275 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Having spent the better part of August touring Manitoba to find out what the major municipal infrastructure issues are, I know first-hand some of the challenges our communities are facing. And it is not simply bumpy streets and broken sidewalks. While the repair and replacement of our streets and roads is the number 1 infrastructure issue facing our municipalities, it is far from the only issue.
I heard stories of 100-year-old water mains actually crumbling under the weight of the dirt they are packed in.
I heard about municipal public works staff responding to eight water main breaks in one day in a town of 5,000 people. This same town is trying to raise funds for a new recreation complex but is being weighed down by the impending cost of new water lines.
I heard some parts of Manitoba still don’t have cellular phone service or high-speed Internet.
I heard about people moving to Manitoba to work and contribute to our economy, only to be unable to find adequate housing. One mayor told me in her community, there are 11 people living in less than 800 square feet.
I heard that in Manitoba, in 2011, many citizens do not have access to safe, clean drinking water.
These issues aren’t just affecting remote places — they are affecting communities throughout the province. They are impacting the lives of your neighbours, your friends, and maybe yourselves.
So what is the solution? The solution is to get more money into the hands of municipalities to fix these problems. And it is a solution that all parties running in this election need to address.
Over the past few weeks, 144 Manitoba municipalities — almost 75 per cent — have passed resolutions calling on all parties to make a commitment, if elected, to dedicate one percentage point of the provincial sales tax to municipal infrastructure. This would provide municipalities with at least an additional $239 million each year. This figure would grow with the economy, and it would be money well spent. Municipalities are not interested in saving money for a rainy day — the storm has arrived.
Infrastructure spending does not go into some black hole. In many cases, it creates tangible improvements that positively impact our everyday lives. Your drive to work is quicker and safer, your family has recreation and social opportunities, and your water is clean and safe to drink.
Not only that, infrastructure spending goes directly into our economy. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has found that every dollar invested in infrastructure grows the economy, giving us more back. A $1-billion investment would actually grow the economy by $1.3 billion.
On the other hand, not making these investments has a negative effect. One chamber of commerce president explained it to me this way: “Driving around our community, you’ll see many, many streets where it is obvious work needs to be done. It doesn’t reflect well when we’re trying to draw in business and increase our population.”
After all, that is what most people want — to see their communities grow. Growth signals prosperity; it means we live in a desirable place where others want to live, too. Growth means new opportunities for us today and for our children in the future. But the infrastructure must exist to support it.
Perhaps the mayor of Brandon, Shari Decter-Hirst, said it best. The leader of Manitoba’s second-largest city says “infrastructure is the investment we need to increase revenues and fuel our growth.”
An investment that will increase revenues and fuel growth in our economy sounds like a good deal. The catch is, one percentage point of the PST for infrastructure is a lot of money, and there is only one taxpayer. Being in government, however, means dealing with conflicting priorities, and infrastructure is already a massive priority that is growing daily.
The alternative is grim. Not investing in municipal infrastructure today will lead to the problem becoming larger, more expensive and more devastating for our children and grandchildren. That was another common theme in the communities I visited. Concern is growing for future generations and the money they will need to sustain our infrastructure.
So when you are opening your door to your candidates this election or attending a debate, find out which party is making a firm commitment to our infrastructure and attaching dollars to their promises.
Which party is pledging to put communities first this election?
Doug Dobrowolski is a councillor for the RM of Macdonald and president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.