HRM and the Election: What Is Important?

In nine days, after next weekend, HRM & Canada goes to the polls. At one time it seemed like the nation would sleepwalk through another meaningless election and end up with largely the same result as the last few times.

Out East, from a municipal point of view Ottawa might as well be the moon.  The palace on the Rideau is where during the disgrace of a Minister Raitt’s Press Secretery Jasmine MacDonnell we learned she was paid the same (or slightly more) than our provincial Cabinet Ministers.  Where “a billion here, a billion there, suddenly you are talking real money.” What are the issues from the point of view of Halifax Regional Municipality?

This election there is a big issue that could make or break a critical industry, and could set a driver of Halifax’s economy for the next thirty years.

The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a Conservative government program ostensibly supported by all parties, is critical to the growth of Halifax Shipyards.  Seemed highly likely that Halifax would win its bid to be one of two shipyards to gain from this program.

Then the media, in this case I’m quoting Metronews, reported “Denis Coderre, a high-profile Liberal MP from Quebec [was quoted as saying] a Liberal government would extend a key deadline to allow the Davie Shipyard to compete for the $35-billion, 30-year contract.”

Seven or eight years ago, then Premier Hamm wisely compared the importance of shipbuilding to this region to auto manufacturing in Ontario and Quebec.  He questioned the lack of federal commitment to this important and strategic industry.   The NSPS could see the government finally come to the table, but there has to be a concern for Halifax that some parties are willing to politicize the program in order to gain votes in certain ridings.

Of course, the politicization of funding is not exclusive to ship building.  The other two issues closest the municipal heart are infrastructure funding and transit funding.

Municipalities deal with the dirty work of building and maintaining every day infrastructure.  Mostly, Ottawa hands out money for things like convention centers, highways, bridges, buses, and usually the province matches that and hands it all to the municipality to build.

Infrastructure is a big issue.  Bits of concrete, or whole overpasses, falling to the ground are if not common place more common than they once were.  The Mayor of Mississauga’s website says that there is a national infrastructure deficit of $124 billion.

Long term and stable infrastructure funding is a key issue.  Halifax has hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure that needs to be replaced or rebuilt, most notably the waste water and sewer/storm drain system which will $700 million to upgrade over the next several decades.

Long project planning and building cycles over multiple phases means Halifax struggles to plan without long term funding.   Every project can’t be the convention centre, waiting, waiting, waiting for the Feds to either pony up or walk away from what should be a simple decision.

Transit is a hard one to get your head around in Halifax, where the municipality largely goes it alone without significant investment from the province, or the feds.

Halifax is one of the few urban areas to have no significant ongoing operational funding support from the province, let alone a strong commitment to capital costs.  You contrast that to Toronto, where the province and Mayor Ford can re-allocate billions for subways, and the Federal government is not even involved.

A strong commitment to transit infrastructure from the Feds would help ease the pressure on HRM’s budget, which carries far to high a load running Metro Transit.  Unfortunately, if that funding is contingent on matching provincial funding, HRM may find it difficult to get its hands on any federal support.

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