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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Little-Known Mulcair Facts
Here are some facts you may not have known about NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. (CP)
10. He Used To Be A Liberal
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks</a> in Jean Charest's Liberal government in Quebec. He served in the role from 2003-2006. (CP)
8. He's French (Kind Of)
Mulcair married Catherine Pinhas in 1976. She was born in France to a Turkish family of Sephardic Jewish descent. <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair has French citizenship through his marriage</a>, as do the couple's two sons. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
7. They Used To Be Friends
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair left Charest's Liberal government in Quebec </a>after he was offered the position of Minister of Government Services in 2006, an apparent demotion from Minister of the Environment. Mulcair has said his ouster was related to his opposition to a government plan to transfer land in the Mont Orford provincial park to condo developers. (CP)
6. Ancestor Was Premier Of Quebec
Mulcair's great-great-grandfather on his mother's side was <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor%C3%A9_Mercier" target="_hplink">Honoré Mercier, the ninth premier of Quebec</a>. (Public Domain/Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was the first New Democrat to win a riding in Quebec during a federal election</a>. He held the riding of Outremont during the 2008 election after first winning the seat in a 2007 by-election. Phil Edmonston was the first New Democrat to win a seat in Quebec, but his win came in a 1990 by-election. Robert Toupin was the very first to bring a Quebec seat to the NDP, but he did it in 1986 by crossing the floor. (Alamy)
4. He's Half Irish.
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair's father Harry Donnelly Mulcair was Irish-Canadian</a> and his mother Jeanne French-Canadian. His father spoke to him in English and his mother in French -- explaining his fluency in both official languages. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
3. He Votes In France
Muclair has voted in past French elections, but says that now that he is leader of the Official Opposition <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1157191" target="_hplink">he will not take part in the upcoming French presidential vote</a>. (Thinkstock)
2. Young Love At First Sight
<a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair met his future wife at a wedding when they were both teenagers</a>. Catherine was visiting from France. They married two years later when they were both 21. (CP)
1. Mr. Angry
<a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/03/16/thomas-mulcair-is-mr-angry/" target="_hplink">Mulcair was given the moniker in a Maclean's headline</a>, but the new leader of the NDP has long been known for his short fuse. In 2005, he was fined $95,000 for defamatory comments he made about former PQ minister Yves Duhaime on TV. The comments included French vulgarity and an accusation that alleged influence peddling would land Duhaime in prison.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair comments on the federal budget in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Thursday March 29, 2012. If there was any doubt that Thomas Mulcair's political universe revolves around Quebec, it was dispelled by his response to Thursday's federal budget. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair addresses the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday April 5, 2012. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)