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4 important federal election issues for Hamilton

Here are four important federal issues that have extra significance for Hamilton voters.
We'll hear plenty from the five federal leaders throughout the 11-week election campaign. What issues will they focus on that matter most in Hamilton? (Reuters/Canadian Press)

Conservative leader Stephen Harper has opted for an extra early, extra long campaign this year, meaning Canadians will be bombarded with electioneering by all parties for 11 weeks heading into the fall.

Some of the issues to be debated in the coming months are broad-based and affect everyone (like the economy, national security, etc), but some others have a much more defined local impact.

Here are four important federal issues that could have a real local impact in Hamilton.

1. Pensions

According to the latest available numbers, Hamilton's proportion of seniors is higher than the national average – and with the baby boomers heading into retirement, that number will only grow.

One only needs look at the current court battle over U.S. Steel's restructuring to see how problems with private sector pensions are hitting the area hard.

Now, the provincial government is demanding the federal Conservatives drop their opposition to the creation of a provincial pension plan. But finance Minister Joe Oliver wrote his Ontario counterpart earlier this month warning Ottawa would not help implement the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan or make any legislative changes to allow it to be treated like the CPP for tax purposes.

As the campaign rolls on into October, expect the issue of how to improve the public pillar to factor significantly in conversations in Hamilton.

2. Infrastructure investment

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger says federal infrastructure investment tops his list of federal issues – and that's not surprising, seeing as the city has a massive infrastructure deficit estimated at nearly $200 million per year.

Discussions about the looming problem at city hall have focused on a lack of support from higher levels of government and the unsustainable reliance on reserve funds in recent years.

The city's budget increased by 2.7 per cent this year compared to 2014, which means property taxes have increased by an average of $99 yearly. Councillors have long lamented costs "downloaded" onto the city by provincial and federal governments hindering taxpayers at the municipal level.

Couple that with the emerging issue of the city's reliance on revenue from its residential tax base rather than commercial entities, and this becomes a multifaceted issue dealing with downloading, Hamilton's dwindling manufacturing sector, population density and more.

3. Affordable housing and the creation of a National Housing Strategy

Hamilton's housing market has been setting records for months, as prices shoot skyward and the market tightens with an influx of people looking to buy homes.

While that's a cause for celebration on some fronts, others say the boom is leading to displacement. Many have decried that Hamilton's condo boom doesn't involve units specifically set aside for affordable housing.

The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction has named a National Housing Strategy as one of the most important issues for Hamiltonians heading into the federal election.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities says the long, steady decline in federal subsidies for social housing has left provinces, territories and municipalities struggling against market forces that are making it increasingly difficult for low- and modest-income renters.

As Hamilton's housing market continues to surge, so too will this issue.

4.  Employment Insurance

A low percentage of unemployed people in Hamilton qualify for employment insurance, and McMaster University political scientist Peter Graefe says the program is "failing in its ability to provide income security to the unemployed."

Hamilton is especially susceptible to feeling the brunt of EI's failings, as an increase of "precarious employment" keeps creating unsteady jobs that makes it difficult for people to even qualify.

One study pegs the share of Hamilton workers in precarious employment at nearly 60 per cent — leaving more than half the city in jobs that often have no security, benefits and regular scheduling.

Without regular hours, many can't qualify for EI should they get laid off. As the stable, full time jobs of yesteryear wear away, the way Canadians access and use EI will become a bigger issue in the coming years.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

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