What Canada's Political Drama Could Mean for Cities

Michael Dudley's picture

While Americans and Canadians alike watched the U.S. presidential race with growing enthusiasm and passion over the past two years, it may have slipped the notice of our American friends that we actually had a federal election here in October. 

It was a decidedly passionless affair: the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history helped to ensure that almost nothing changed in Ottawa in terms of the balance of power. The Conservatives were returned with a minority mandate, and the once seemingly undefeatable Liberals had their worst showing ever

All that has changed in a matter of days. Not even two months into their mandate, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives appear to be mortally wounded and on the verge of being toppled by a coalition of the present opposition parties.

What set off the present "constitutional crisis" was the government's  universally-panned economic report which offered no new stimulus to the economy, as well as a plan to scuttle per-vote funding for opposition parties.  The opposition, outraged at both, quickly marshalled their forces and forced Mr. Harper to back down.

Now the most powerful person in Canada is Michaelle Jean, our Governor-General (the Queen's representative and Head of State), who now has three options: she can either dismiss Parliament until late January to give the Conservatives a chance to recover; call an election -- a most unappealing option given that we  (well, some of us, anyways) just went to the polls; or approve the coalition's proposal and offer them the chance to govern.   

Why this is of interest to Planetizen readers is that the two coalition partners -- the Liberal and New Democratic (NDP) Parties -- both went into the previous election with strong urban and environmental policies. The Liberal Party promised:

"at least $10 billion for Strategic Infrastructure, particularly green infrastructure such as clean water and sewage treatment, and clean energy grids; at least $8 billion for a National Transit Strategy that will enable our cities to expand their systems and green their transit fleets; at least $3 billion for a dedicated Small Communities Fund, to ensure that all Canadians are able to see strengthened, more resilient infrastructure; and at least $3 billion for Sports and Recreational Facilities because an active society is a healthier society and Canada must renew and expand its arenas and other leisure facilities."

The NDP platform emphasized

"Expanded public transit; Affordable housing; Expanded child care; Building retrofits and environmentally friendly renovations; Immigrant settlement; Roads, highways and border crossings; Public libraries; Community centres; Sewer and water treatment facilities."

By constrast, the Conservative platform had very little new to offer for Canada's cities, as their platform only touted previous accomplishments, including establishing the "Building Canada plan to modernize Canada's infrastructure through a $33 billion investment over seven years."

While some of the coalition's goals are now tempered by the pragmatic considerations of coalition-forming (the Liberal's proposed carbon tax is not part of the agreement) the parties are vowing to "accelerate existing infrastructure spending and make new spending commitments to municipal and inter-provincial projects; invest in housing construction; and invest in the manufacturing, auto and forestry sectors."

Depending what the Governor General decides, Canada could have a new government as early as Monday December 8th. Or it could happen in January. But it does seem likely that the present Conservative government has few options and little chance of holding power.

What is certain though is that the outcome of this crisis of governance may represent an exciting and positive change for Canada's environmental and urban policies.  



Michael Dudley is the Indigenous and Urban Services Librarian at the University of Winnipeg.


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