Mulcair Says Cities, Towns Face An 'Infrastructure Cliff'

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Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair addresses the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Thursday November 22, 2012 in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand) | CP

Cities and towns in Canada are in danger of going over an "infrastructure cliff" unless a federally funded infrastructure plan replaces the Building Canada Plan, which is set to expire in less than two years, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair warned Thursday.

What is needed, Mulcair told a Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting in Ottawa, is a "once-in-a-generation fix" to replace the roads, bridges and wastewater treatment facilities that are nearing the end of their service life.

The Building Canada Plan was launched by the federal government in 2007 for a seven-year period and provided $33 billion for municipal infrastructure projects.

However, Mulcair said, the federal initiative means that cities and towns have had to rely on application-based programs for projects such as a new bridge or wastewater treatment facility, which he described as processes that are "one-off, full of red tape and lend themselves to partisan decision making."

For Canadian cities and towns, Mulcair said, time is running out, considering that many municipal roads and wastewater plants date from the 1950s and 1960s.

Mulcair announced that the New Democratic Party will pressure the government to put in place a long-term infrastructure plan in time for the 2013 federal budget. He said the NDP housing strategy calls on Ottawa to work with other levels of government to ensure every Canadian has an affordable place to live. And the NDP transit strategy would provide dedicated, predictable funding to improve public transit systems, he said.

Mulcair took several partisan jabs at the Conservative government in front of the audience of mayors and reeves from across the country.

"We face a prime minister who enjoys power but hates governing," Mulcair said in prepared notes made available before he spoke.

On housing and transit, Mulcair said, "Mr. Harper's government has stubbornly stuck to its hands-off, fend-for-yourself approach."

FCM will hear from infrastructure minister

Minister of Infrastructure Denis Lebel, who is due to speak to the FCM Friday, said Thursday the federal government has "already invested more than any other government in Canadian history … but with the worldwide economy now, we have to see what's in taxpayers' capacity to do it [provide more funding]."

The FCM has called for the federal government to provide $2.5 billion a year over two years for infrastructure in order to keep Canada competitive, but Lebel said, "We'll see later. It's too soon to tell."

Not all of Canada's mayors were present to hear Mulcair speak.

Montreal Mayor Gerard Tremblay and Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt of Laval have recently resigned due to rumours about corruption, and on Wednesday London, Ont. Mayor Joe Fontana, a former Liberal MP, was charged with fraud over accusations he used federal funds while he was a cabinet minister to pay for his son's wedding.

Fontana said Thursday he would not step aside as major while facing charges.

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