As the election campaign heats up, there are now many issues on the table. This is why I suggested earlier that you should choose an issue that was important to you and focus on that issue. It makes it easier to cut through all the verbiage.
Last week I discussed climate change, which is now finding its way onto the main stage of the election campaign. This week I want to discuss another issue that I think is important—communities. (In the past, parties talked about having a policy for cities, but when they realized that this excluded a large number of people living in small and medium-size towns, townships, and so forth, the language was changed to communities.)
Communities were in need of support before the pandemic and their position has been made worse by the pandemic. They suffer from a significant infrastructure deficit associated with roads, bridges, water, and wastewater. Many of these services are forgotten because they are hidden from public view, but they are quietly ticking time bombs. The pandemic has created additional pressures from both declining revenues and increasing expenditures.
Communities also need some assistance because of their position on the front line in dealing with the climate crisis. The decisions that communities make in areas like land-use planning and development have a major impact of climate. As well, communities operate a fleet of vehicle and other public works like power plants, community centres, and parks that can be either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Small and medium-size municipalities, like Pelham, can develop public transit systems to reduce the use of private cars. Every city needs to install electric charging stations to deal with the coming dominance of electric vehicles. These initiatives cost money that communities don’t have.
These local government issues have been largely absent from the federal campaign. The only issue that is presently in the forefront that has consequences for communities is affordable housing. This is a re-run of an issue that was handled badly in the 2019 campaign and generally parties have shown that they didn’t learn anything from that mess.
The affordable housing crisis has been with us for some time, but was exacerbated by the pandemic. The parties have again suggested ways of dealing with the issue that prove that there has been no consultation with local governments. Just like in 2019, one of the main suggestions has been to assist purchasers by putting more money in their hands and easing mortgage conditions. Putting more purchasers with more money into the existing market will drive up prices and worsen the existing affordability problem rather than reduce it.
This time there is also the idea of significantly increasing the housing stock. This is approaching the issue in the right way, but I have a funny feeling about how this movie will end. This could be a great opportunity to re-think housing generally and develop some interesting and innovative ideas involving complete communities with mid-rise, multi-use structures in bikeable and walkable environments. My funny feeling is that the pressure to act quickly will drive us to take the 1950s subdivision plans off the shelf and build a bunch of Beaver Cleaver suburbs. Not only will this do little to solve the affordability crisis, but it will also worsen the climate change situation.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the main national organization representing communities, has suggested an agenda for this election. I have drawn from this list and inserted some of my own thoughts.
New and improved infrastructure— sidewalks, roads, bridges, water purification and wastewater treatment.
Better bandwidth especially in rural areas. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of good wi-fi connections. We need to deal with the digital divide.
Energy retrofits of existing buildings to make them more energy-efficient.
Funding for the improvement of municipal operations such as moving toward zero-emission fleets.
Increase and improve the housing stock with special emphasis on developing complete communities that are bikeable, walkable and welcoming to public transit.
Innovative public transit options for small and medium size communities. Toronto needs billions for a new subway line; that’s fine, but it’s not scaleable to municipalities the size of Pelham. Smaller communities need innovative transit systems to meet the needs of people with accessibility issues and to eliminate the need for families to buy a second or third car.
An election campaign provides a great opportunity to get often- overlooked items on the national agenda. We should take this opportunity to press parties to take these community issues seriously. ◆
David Siegel is Brock University professor emeritus of Political Science.