It was my pleasure to welcome the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, the Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to Victoria recently where he toured the City’s Public Works yard as well as a BC Transit “smart bus”, and gave an update on Budget 2019, in particular what’s in it for cities.
Since Confederation in 1867, the funding formula for cities has changed very little. For every tax dollar that Canadians pay, approximately $0.92 goes to the provincial and federal governments and only $0.08 goes to local governments. This despite the fact that about 70% of public infrastructure in Canada is within the jurisdiction of cities. And cities are responsible for approximately 50% of greenhouse gases generated in the country. In addition, cities are faced with poverty, mental health, addictions and homelessness with little to no resources to deal with these pressing economic and social issues.
While this federal budget does not address all of these challenges, it gives an important nod – and some significant resources – to the ability of local governments to solve local problems locally.
Federal commitments in Budget 2019 on affordable housing, transitioning to a green economy, and skills training align closely with Victoria City Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and with the Capital Regional District’s recently adopted Strategic Plan as well.
Municipal leaders know, as do our federal counterparts, that taking action on those issues is crucial to ensuring that Canada’s cities are liveable, healthy, and competitive in the global economy.
I’m proud that the Capital Regional District’s Regional Housing First Program was profiled in Federal Budget 2019 (see page 31). I note this because the program is a quintessential example of local innovation and leadership supported by – but not dictated by – federal and provincial funding.
The Regional Housing First Program was designed by and for our communities here in the region. Thankfully, the federal funding for the program is helping us to make transformative progress on eliminating homelessness and providing safe, affordable, and supported housing.
The federal commitment of $30 million was made in May 2018 (to match provincial and regional commitments of $30 million each) and already we have opened Millstream Ridge in Langford. It’s a 132 unit building run by the Capital Regional Housing Corporation and it includes 30 units which rent at $375 per month.
This kind of thinking – federal support for local innovation – is why I was pleased to see the Federal government use Budget 2019 to transfer $2.2 billion in Federal Gas Tax funding to municipalities and First Nations. It charts a path toward a modernized federal-municipal relationship that gets more done for Canadians. Permanently growing this core funding stream would directly empower municipalities to deliver on national objectives.
This gas tax measure, which will see an additional $3.5 million flow to the City of Victoria – and $21 million flow to the region – is a great way of allocating federal funds directly to local governments where they are coupled with local expertise to address short-term infrastructure priorities in communities across Canada. This funding allows projects to get underway now without grant applications and federal or provincial approvals.
In recent years, the City of Victoria used Gas Tax funds in several crucial ways. We’re building a 32km bike network for people of all ages and abilities and we’re also working to complete a harbour pathway. We updated our storm drain system. And we installed LED street lights throughout the city. This last investment is saving us approximately $200,000 per year in hydro costs which we are reinvesting to fund other essential energy and GHG reduction initiatives in the city.
These gas tax investments have also made Victoria a more dynamic and enjoyable place to live by increasing infrastructure for health and well-being. And, since addressing climate change is a shared priority of the City of Victoria and the federal government, it is no coincidence that our Gas Tax-funded projects all improved Victoria’s resilience to climate change and reduced carbon pollution.
In addition to being good for health and well-being and good for the climate, local investments in capital infrastructure are good for the economy. For example, last week the CRD adopted its 2019 budget. Included in the budget are $382 million dollars worth of capital improvements – sewer, water, housing, parks, trails and more. This investment is expected to generate 814 new jobs in the region and 1121 new jobs across British Columbia.
Cities are creative, innovative places that hold some of the solutions to the challenges faced by federal and provincial governments, most notably climate change. Investments like the ones announced in Budget 2019 will help the federal government to deliver on its climate mandate by enabling cities to have a strong voice and to take strong action in shaping our own infrastructure priorities. Cities and metro regions are key to the federal government meeting its Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement; they are behind and we can help. Cities are here as allies and partners.
I look forward to inviting Minister Duclos and other federal ministers back to Victoria in the future. And I look forward to showing them how we’re continuing to take local action and improve our communities by using the funds announced for local governments in Budget 2019.