23, 2003: "Cities, both large and small, are
the engines of our economic growth and central to our quality
of life." Paul Martin told reporters last week after
being sworn in as Prime Minister. Martin, who promised to
personally take charge of the cities file, has created a cities
secretariat within the Privy Council Office. Toronto MP John
Godfrey was appointed as parliamentary secretary for cities,
and Mike Harcourt, a former premier of British Columbia and
mayor of Vancouver, is now chair of an advisory committee
to develop a practical game plan for helping cities.
A new deal for cities is great news for city-dwellers --
eighty percent of Canadians. It could be good news for the
other twenty percent who have chosen small towns, villages
and countryside. Much depends on design. Will a new deal fund
still more urban sprawl fraught with high infrastructure costs,
or will it initiate a fresh vision for livable cities with
dynamic neighborhoods? Will a new deal be all about competitiveness
in global economic markets or will our advantage be vibrant
neighborhoods, from which we reach out to the four corners
of our world? Will a new deal recognize our wrap-around countryside
as an indispensable component of livable cities?
Also last week, a University of Guelph seminar on sustainable
rural communities showcased some of the daunting challenges
facing Ontario's rural municipalities. During the past decade
amalgamations have erased the boundaries of 500 local municipalities.
The communities affected must learn to define themselves without
political boundaries. Obligations to provide local services
for residents have increased dramatically. Water services
alone now require record keeping and accountability standards
that make it mandatory for municipal employees to function
at a new level of sophistication. Much of our rural infrastructure
- roads, bridges, and public buildings - completed in the
60s and 70s, is becoming a maintenance money pit.
In seeking to reinvent themselves, rural municipalities face
a dilemma. They lack the resources to do the job right--revenue
is still limited to property taxes, business taxes, license
fees and development charges. Many countryside developments,
like scattered estate lots, cost more to service than they
contribute to municipal coffers. Without a new deal, rural
municipalities risk serious deterioration in services.
Communities in the United States have access to half a dozen
revenue streams denied Canadian municipalities. In 1996, U.
S. municipalities spent $1,652 dollars per citizen. Canadian
municipalities spent just $785 per person.
Prime Minister Martin is right to rethink the arrangements
for our big cities but he must not stop there. All our municipalities
need new options so that, from their homes, Canadians everywhere
can be citizens of the world.
The Seminar on the Sustainable Rural Communities Research
Program included presentations on:
- Managing Rural Communities in the New Millennium by John
Fitzgibbon, University of Guelph.
- A Framework for Innovative Communities by Elinor Humphries,
Alpha Projects, one of the collaborators in this research.
The project has a website at: www.innovativecommunities.ca.
- Rural Automobile Parts Plants and Community Sustainability
by Belinda Leach, University of Guelph.
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