We Need To Talk About Cities

Canada’s Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, delivered Economic Action Plan 2014 (Budget 2014) today. He gave a speech to the House of Commons. In a couple thousand words, this speech talked about red tape, pipelines, and national parks, among other things. These are important things to talk about and are, as Mr. Flaherty mentioned, a responsible way to a brighter future for Canadians.

But 81 per cent of Canadians live in cities or urban areas, and Minister Flaherty didn’t talk about that. 86 per cent of Albertans live in cities or urban areas. Minister Flaherty quoted Thomas D’Arcy McGee in his speech, saying “We are in the rapids and must go on.” That’s an apt description of where Canadian cities are today. By the end of this decade, Edmonton will be the fastest-growing city in Canada. We’re definitely in the rapids, and we must certainly go on.

Rapid growth brings challenges in housing, transportation, and infrastructure. Cities have to deal with these challenges, and we need other levels of government to recognize that. Today’s speech didn’t mention cities - not once.

That’s not to say the federal government isn’t aware of our challenges. They are, and they’re committed to the multi-billion dollar Building Canada Fund, which funds projects that address national, regional, and local infrastructure. Cities are anxiously awaiting clarity about the parametres of the Building Canada Fund, and Budget 2014 hints that clarity is coming soon. The Government of Canada is aware of our challenges, but they’re not talking about it yet.

That’s the thing: if we’re going to manage Edmonton’s growth and come out the other side as the city we want to be, we can’t go it alone. Our successes are tied to real commitments from the federal and provincial governments, and those commitments will grow out of meaningful conversations about the challenges cities face.