Municipal Issues: Infrastructure

(SUMA) People living in Saskatchewan’s cities, towns, and villages rely on municipal infrastructure to go about their day-to-day lives. This vital infrastructure includes the roads and bridges we drive on, the systems that treat our wastewater, and all the equipment it takes to ensure access to clean, safe water.

After decades of underinvestment, our urban municipalities are facing a significant infrastructure deficit. We are confronted with crumbling roads, rusting bridges and sewer systems, and outdated water and wastewater treatment facilities.

While municipalities own more than 60 per cent of Canada’s public infrastructure, they collect only eight cents from every tax dollar paid in Canada, with the balance going to federal, provincial, and territorial governments.

On our own, towns, villages, and cities don’t have the revenue tools to rebuild infrastructure, especially while we are expected to meet growing needs for policing, housing, the environment and settlement of newcomers, including many responsibilities downloaded from other orders of government.

To ensure we can continue to meet the infrastructure needs of our communities now and into the future, we are calling on federal parties to commit to a new permanent, long-term, sustainable, and predictable infrastructure program that increases the overall amount of funding available for municipal infrastructure.

While there have been a number of federal infrastructure programs over the last decade, their limited scope has made it difficult for municipalities. We do, however, applaud the federal Gas Tax Fund, which was developed in consultation with municipalities. When a program is developed in that way, it can ensure the program meets the needs of municipalities.

Other plans are not permanent, not flexible when it comes to the types of projects that can receive funding, and our municipalities are unable to select priority projects, based on local needs.

Villages, towns, and cities are also facing significant expenses when it comes to replacing and upgrading municipal wastewater systems to ensure they meet new regulatory standards introduced five years ago by the federal government.

While we are supportive of the new regulations, municipalities are now facing significant capital costs to upgrade wastewater infrastructure — money that many small communities in Saskatchewan simply do not have.

Federal infrastructure funding should be flexible enough to help municipalities meet new regulatory standards, and function for municipalities of all sizes. That is why we are calling for a new long-term dedicated federal fund of $300 million annually for 20 years to help cover the cost of improvements required to meet these new standards.

Local and provincial governments could match this funding to help with the capital costs of rebuilding wastewater systems, in turn ensuring that all Canadians have access to safe water. Without federal or provincial contributions, the cost to build such facilities will again be downloaded onto our local taxpayers.

It’s high time the federal government made a permanent, long-term, sustainable, and flexible investment in municipal infrastructure. Without it, we cannot expect our hometowns to thrive.