Gregor Robertson: Ask candidates what their plan is for cities
By Gregor Robertson, Special to the Sun, September 29, 2015, vancouversun.com
Issues of housing, transit and infrastructure must be addressed
Like cities across Canada, Vancouver is facing a number of big challenges. From the Broadway Subway and traffic congestion, to spiralling housing costs and near-zero rental vacancy rates, to rising sea levels and the impacts of climate change, we must consider how our city will meet the growing demands these issues place on housing, transit and infrastructure.
Our response to these challenges will shape the future of our city, but we can’t do this alone: We need a federal government that will work with us and treat cities as a partner, not an afterthought.
In this election, voters need to know where the federal parties stand on their priorities for cities. We need to know their plans for responding to issues like affordable housing and traffic congestion, and how they are going to work with cities to address these concerns. Cities across Canada need our federal parties to commit to real plans for investment, and lay out specific details.
When a party leader says they are going to invest in housing, do they mean co-op housing? Social housing? Creating new housing or renovating existing units?
When they promise billions in new transit funding, how much funding starts next year versus a decade from now?
When they announce more money for infrastructure, what are the restrictions? Are cities forced to apply for a limited range of projects, like roads and sewers, or do we have the flexibility to meet local needs? Does it require matching funding from the province?
These may seem like small details, but they make a huge difference to local governments. And they’ll have a big impact on your quality of life.
This election campaign has focused on a variety of issues, from personal leadership styles to whether the budget is balanced to the Syrian refugee crisis, but we’re missing a key topic that we can’t afford to ignore — an in-depth discussion of how our cities factor into Canada’s economic future.
As the drivers of our nation’s economy, cities should be front and centre in this federal election. They are home to the innovation that will keep our country strong in the modern economy, where ideas become reality. Any federal leader who says they have a credible plan to grow our economy needs to have a plan that invests in cities.
In Vancouver, we are fortunate to be in a strong position. Our economy is predicted to be the fastest growing of any city in Canada over the next several years, providing a solid foundation for both local and international businesses. Last year, our city secured more than $500 million in venture capital, and we rank in the top 20 globally as a start-up ecosystem. We need to hear how the next government will help cities build on our strengths, and ensure they are resilient and competitive.
On Thursday, the City will be hosting an urban issues forum in partnership with Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue. This is a unique opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with representatives from each of the parties, to discuss their plans and hear their perspectives on urban issues. We want to get past the sound bites and drill down on specifics, and give voters the chance to ask questions and get the information they need to make an informed choice in this election.
I encourage everyone in Vancouver to take the time to ask their candidates where they stand on issues like transit, housing and infrastructure — issues that require an active and willing federal government. The choice that voters make on election day on Oct. 19 will have a significant impact on Vancouver — and cities across the country.
Gregor Robertson is mayor of the City of Vancouver.