It has been a full week of budget news. Last Thursday the provincial government released its 2017 budget, and today our federal government released its fiscal plan. This is an uncertain time, with both governments working to manage large deficits and lower revenues amidst economic turmoil. That said, both budgets are encouraging for Edmonton overall.
With roughly 10 cents of your tax dollar, the city does a lot to provide services for Edmontonians. But we can’t build a globally competitive city with dimes. As Chair of Canada’s Big City Mayors group, I pushed for more funding for transit, affordable housing, and green infrastructure investment – all to establish a stable, predictable funding model for City Building. Simply put, we want more of the money that Edmontonians pay in Federal and Provincial taxes to come back and help us build.
Provincially, I was pleased to see investments in affordable housing and healthcare infrastructure. Specifically, $49.5 million for the Londonderry mixed-use housing regeneration project and funding for both the Royal Alexandra and Misericordia Hospitals is positive. But a noticeable shortfall in the provincial budget was permanent supportive housing commitments, which remains a pressing need to reduce homelessness. Municipalities have shown local leadership when it comes to housing, and the most innovative solutions will come from the bottom up – from our local housing partners. Ongoing provincial investment in infrastructure for the Edmonton area was also positive to see. Building new and renewing existing roads, facilities, hospitals and schools stimulates our economy and creates jobs in the short term, and productivity in the long term. I was particularly pleased to see the province support a rail overpass for 50th street – anyone who has sat in a long line of traffic at this rail crossing knows why this project matters.
Federally, it appears our advocacy on behalf of big cities is paying off. This budget confirms the government’s commitment to making long-term, predictable funding investments in municipalities, including Edmonton. While it’s too bad that the phase one federal commitment to fund up to 50% of transit was not maintained for phase two, I am encouraged to see the feds step up with a long-term predictable transfer over 11 years at a 40% share – which is still an improvement over the traditional one-third model. The key will be securing a matching level of support from provinces, since cities will struggle to keep up with the Federal government’s increasing commitment on transit without unduly impacting property taxpayers. From Edmonton’s perspective, I’m hopeful that the Alberta government allocates a portion of its carbon levy revenues to match the federal commitment of 40% to major transit projects. With 80% of our funding in place from senior orders of government, we would be able to build Valley Line Phase 2 (west to Lewis Estates) and extend the Metro Line into Blatchford soon.
With today’s budget, the Federal government has substantially re-engaged in affordable housing, which is great news. The commitments made today will begin to alleviate the immediate social housing crisis many cities are facing, and create a space for us to build a longer term plan. The government has committed to support existing subsidies and fund renovations to existing units, and to building new units of housing. The commitments ramp up over time, but hopefully we can accelerate the work against the long-term funding. While there’s more work to do to solve the affordable housing crisis, especially when it comes to building supportive housing, it’s good to have all orders of government fully engaged in this file again.
One thing noticeably missing from today’s budget is specifics around investments in green infrastructure. Municipalities are leading the way on GHG reductions, and we’re eager to scale up local innovation in areas like building retrofits, electrification of our fleets, and green waste systems. We’d like the same level of partnership we’re seeing on transit and housing applied to green infrastructure in order to achieve our mutual goals.
Both the provincial and federal budgets indicate we’ve made progress on our top priorities which will help us continue to build our city. The tangible outcomes of this funding will be shorter commutes, more housing for vulnerable Edmontonians as well as productivity and economic growth.
I’ll continue to advocate for Edmonton, ensuring our city gets our fair share of these transformational investments.