As a former member of Toronto’s Budget Committee, I understand all too well the incredible financial pressure Toronto is under, especially during a harsh economic downturn.
Across Canada, municipalities need the federal infrastructure funding to flow without cost sharing, and have it delivered through the gas tax formula so no delay occurs due to red tape. The Conservative’s project-by-project approach ties up the funding in unnecessary legal wrangling and prevents the money from reaching municipalities. On behalf of the New Democratic Party of Canada, I have been working overtime to pressure the government to follow the recommendations from the Big City Mayor team and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
On March 3, I made the following statement in the House of Commons, calling on the government to help Toronto buy new streetcars:
Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina, NDP): Mr. Speaker, have you ever waited for a streetcar on the windy, cold, icy winter street corners of Toronto? Well, the wait will soon be a lot shorter.Toronto is buying 204 new street cars. My constituents who ride the TTC on Queens Quay, Spadina, King, Queen, Dundas, College, and Bathurst are all going to benefit from this purchase.
Shorter waits means fewer people will drive. Not only is riding the red rocket the better way, building new street cars creates 300 jobs over 10 years.
The federal government should send $450 million to Toronto so the TTC street car contract can be signed by April 27.
The Conservatives, however, refuse to adopt a gas tax formula that reflects Toronto’s priorities. As a result funds have been mired in red tape for years.
When will Torontonians finally see some of their tax money back in town?
I have also been very vocal in pushing the government to relax Employment Insurance (EI) qualifications so more unemployed people would qualify for a longer period of time, and with higher benefit payments. After all, it is hardly fair for Toronto property tax payers to shell out an extra $33 million for welfare simply because unemployed people can’t access EI. Here is the NDP motion we are pushing for:
In the opinion of this House, the government must address the alarming growth in the number of unemployed Canadians and the increasing number of EI claimants; confirm its commitment to a social safety net to help regular Canadians through tough times and bring forward reforms to EI rules to expand eligibility and improve benefits, including:
(a) eliminating the two-week waiting period; (b) reducing the qualification period to a minimum of 360 hours of work, regardless of the regional rate of unemployment; (c) allowing self-employed workers to participate in the plan; (d) raising the rate of benefits to 60% and base benefits on the best 12 weeks in the qualification period; and (e) encouraging training and re-training.
After acknowledging that the 2009 Federal Budget is inadequate in many areas and agreeing with the demands of mayors across the country and the New Democrats, the Liberals refused to adopt amendments to the Budget (the exchange is available here: http://oliviachow.ca/mp/?p=1245). All Liberal MPs once again voted with the Conservatives (for the 62nd time) and killed any chance to improve the Federal Budget. These amendments would allow infrastructure funds to be delivered in a non-partisan and expedited way. They would help cities keep property taxes low, help more people to access funds from the EI system they pay into, fund transit infrastructure with a gas-tax based formula, and help boost Toronto’s economy.
How sad, and what a missed opportunity to create jobs, keep the property tax low, improve the TTC services and help the environment.
Let’s continue to work together, and maybe one day, we will get a government that truly believes in a green economic recovery where no one is left behind. In the mean time, if you have any creative ideas on what actions can be taken by the federal government to stimulate the economy, let me know.