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Summer Conference 2002

Closing Keynote
P.C., M.P., Minister of Transport (bio)

DAVID McGOWN, Vice-President Program, CIPA Board Member (bio)

Synopsis by Melanie Martin

In the final keynote address of this year’s Couchiching Conference, Federal Transportation Minister David Collenette, spoke of the need for government to return to its activist and innovative ways in order to reinvigorate Canada’s cities.

In his introduction, Minister Collenette addressed his overarching belief that as Canadian communities become more urbanized, governments need to become more involved. The Minister believed that greater government involvement was necessary because cities provide the foundation for Canada’s social and economic environment. They have to be able to compete globally for knowledge and investment while maintaining Canada’s cultural integrity and diversity. Minister Collenette stated on more than one occasion that the government had to ensure that cities had world class infrastructure in order to add to Canada’s overall global competitiveness.

In particular, the Minister was concerned by the increase in the number of suburban communities and the lost of productivity and quality of life resulting from the commute many Canadian workers face every day as they drive into the cities. In this regard, cities are victims of their own success as transportation facilitates are not keeping up with their growth. The increased congestion is problematic since transportation delays are not only costly in economic terms, but also led to greater pollution problems.

Recently the trend in government has been to download services and costs onto municipalities. This phenomenon has resulted in increased homelessness and overall poverty levels for the marginalized portion of society. Minister Collenette believes that these negative trends are the result of a misapplication of resources, a lack of collective will and a lack of sound government policies. He proposed that all levels of government put the urban agenda at the fore of politics and that the officials in Ottawa put aside their previous reluctance and engage in reinvigorating Canada’s cities. However, for this to take place, the provinces must also be on board due to the divisions of power in the Canadian constitution. All governing bodies need to work within the constitutional framework so that there are no roadblocks in giving the necessary funds and resources to the cities.

On a Federal level, the government can be involved in this issue through tax incentives and grant programmes. Many Federal programmes of this nature are already in place such as the Prime Minister’s urban task force, the municipal strategic infrastructure programme and the development of local airport authorities. However, Minister Collenette proposed that instead of responding to individual crises and providing ad hoc funding that the Federal government needs to have permanent funding programmes and initiatives in place.

The Minister assured the Couchiching audience that Ottawa has received the message of the general population and that they know that politicians need to address the needs of all Canadians, not just the wealthy. He claimed that the government was willing to redirect public money to the places where the need was the greatest. Financing is the obstacle facing the revitalization of cities, but is also the solution. However, it must be acknowledged that complex problems require complex solutions and that the Federal government will match revenue to output, but that there will be accountability conditionalities on any moneys that are transferred to cities.

In closing, the Minister recognized that cities are important and integral to Canada’s future and that the Federal government has heard the cry for help and wants to become involved. It is his hope that all levels of government can work together to be more engaged in the issues that matter to many Canadians in order to reinvigorate our cities and make them more liveable.