Urban economic potential overlooked

SAINT-SAUVEUR, QUE. – Large urban areas are increasingly thedrivers of economic prosperity around the world but Canada isn’ttaking the right steps to make its major cities attractive toinvestment and the creative people who will produce growth, saysGlenn Murray.

“We need to retool our cities to generate wealth,” Murray, thechairman of the National Round Table on the Environment and theEconomy, told the annual Lac Carling conference. The federal andprovincial governments have to rethink taxation and infrastructurepolicies to make Canadian cities able to compete with their rivalsaround the world. Otherwise Canada’s GDP will begin to decline in afew years and the country living standards will fall, Murraycontinued.

The former mayor of Winnipeg and early proponent of the need foran economic new deal for cities with the other levels ofgovernment, Murray said downtown areas have to be made attractivefor living and working in. Reducing the burden of property taxationand putting more emphasis on consumption taxes will bring increasedrevenue to government coffers while reviving the centre of thecities.

While globalization is changing the economic face of the world,the federal government continues to think in 20thCentury terms as it looks for solutions to urban problems, hepointed out. Meanwhile Canada’s international productivity standardis falling and only one Canadian city appears in the list of top 50cities in North America.

“Instead of developing national economic policies, governmentsneed to look for ways to help urban economic centres,” he noted.One essential step would be to address the $125 billioninfrastructure deficit in the major cities.

At the same time, municipal governments must start thinkingabout attracting knowledge based industries that generate exports.”When cities become impoverished they can’t fix their potholes andsewers or provide enough policing. Right now we are not fixing ourinfrastructure.”

About 80 per cent of Canadians live in cities but thosemunicipalities are hard pressed financially to maintain essentialinfrastructure or undertake projects to revitalize their coreareas, he added.

As well Canada has to prepare for the inexorable impact ofclimate change that will cause major upheavals in our cities, heobserved. Rebuilding the downtown cores to reduce the pressure forcontinued urban sprawl would be a good start.

“Our neighbourhoods are designed to require the maximum use ofenergy and are contributing to our poor health by making it hard totalk anywhere.”

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