As Kitchener mulls tax levy, federal candidates say they'd step up infrastructure funding

Kitchener is considering a levy on property taxes to help pay for aging infrastructure. The candidates for Kitchener Centre all say they'd work to ensure local municipalities have the funding needed for infrastructure but offered different ways of funding it.

Federation of Canadian Municipalities also asks all federal parties to consider increasing funding

Candidates in Kitchener Centre say they would find money in the federal budget to advocate for more infrastructure dollars in the city. The five candidates in this photo are (from left): Conservative Stephen Woodworth, People's Party candidate Patrick Bernier, Liberal Raj Saini, NDP's Andrew Moraga and Green Party candidate Mike Morrice. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Candidates for Kitchener Centre say they'd step up and advocate for more infrastructure funding for the city and region to help local municipalities handle the cost of aging infrastructure.

But they offered different ideas on how to fund that promise, and also disagreed about which government in the past has done a better job of providing money for infrastructure.

The comments come at a time when Kitchener council is mulling a tax levy on property taxes to help cover the costs of a looming facilities infrastructure gap, which city staff estimated could hit $227 million by 2029.

The levy was approved in principle Tuesday night, but there's more debate to come.

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said the levy would be discussed during the budget process and residents will be able to raise concerns then.

But he also wants to see what may be offered after the Oct. 21 federal election. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has asked all federal parties to consider increasing funding, particularly by doubling the gas tax.

"As local governments, we've been making the case for some time that we're responsible for approximately 60 per cent of the nation's infrastructure on just 10 cents of every tax dollar collected. That's not a viable model," Vrbanovic said.

How the candidates would find more money

People's Party of Canada candidate Patrick Bernier said there's money in the federal budget, but the way that money is spent needs to be changed.

Bernier said he'd like to see the federal government "repatriate" money sent to other countries for foreign aid to address the issues in Canada.

He said walking in downtown Kitchener, he sees people living on the street and knows more can be done.

"It's a horror show out there," he said.

Green Party candidate Mike Morrice said his party would double the gas tax.

"We need to have the courage to look at closing corporate tax loopholes, ending subsidies to fossil fuel," Morrice said, when asked how the party would find the cash to be able to do that. "That would bring in $25 billion on the corporate tax loophole."

The NDP would also double the gas tax while moving to a low-fossil fuel economy, NDP candidate Andrew Moraga said.

He said he'd also like to see the tax collected on cannabis be spread out to municipalities.

"Something that upsets me is that I see, people like socialism for corporations and they don't like it for everyone else. And so if we have funds to give subsidies and grants and bailouts to all these large corporations then we have money to help everyday people," Moraga said. "We can totally afford it."

Animal Protection Party of Canada candidate Ellen Papenburg did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Liberals didn't 'get shovels in the ground,' Conservative says

Conservative candidate Stephen Woodworth, who served as the MP for Kitchener Centre when Stephen Harper was prime minister but lost in 2015, said the "gold standard for infrastructure funding" was rolled out in 2009-2010 as the Economic Action Plan.

It plan was a way "to get shovels in the ground in a speedy way" and the government worked with the provinces and municipalities. Woodworth noted that included his advocacy work to bring light rail transit to the region.

"The Trudeau Liberal record when it comes to infrastructure is just one of failure. They didn't get to work with the municipal and provincial partners to get shovels in the ground and deliver projects on time and on budget," he said.

He said the next area to focus on is two-way, all-day GO trains. While it's largely a provincial issue, Woodworth says they'd work with the provincial Progressive Conservatives to help make it a reality.

He questions whether the Liberals could because, Woodworth said, Trudeau has been "running around the country publicly trashing [Premier] Doug Ford at every opportunity he gets. You can't expect that there's going to be any kind of productive relationship in that kind of situation."

Feds, provinces need to 'depoliticize infrastructure'

But incumbent Liberal candidate Raj Saini disagrees with Woodworth, noting the Liberal government doubled the portion of the gas tax sent to municipalities last year and have delivered when it comes to providing infrastructure funding.

"There's a lot of things we've done with municipalities in many different ways to make sure that we reduce our carbon footprint but also make sure that cities are livable," Saini said.

"Over the next 20 years we're going to have 200,000 people moving into our region. We're one of the fastest growing regions in Ontario. So we want to make sure that the city's well resourced to adapt to that demand but also to make the city livable and workable and playable for all citizens."

He said the Liberal government approved 4,000 infrastructure projects over four years, has delivered on affordable housing and has provided funding for a new bus maintenance and storage facility for Waterloo region — a project, he noted, that took the provincial government more than a year to approve.

"They didn't allow one intake of any project for one year. And then on the last moment they dumped everything," he said. 

"Obviously we have to work better with the provinces, we have to have a better relationship. But on the other hand the provinces also have to create an atmosphere to depoliticize infrastructure because it's about helping people by making people's lives easier and more comfortable."

With files from Paula Duhatschek


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