Recent polling shows that the cities and suburbs of Canada's leading metropolitan regions, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Metropolitan Vancouver, are critical battlegrounds for the September 20th federal election. Although COVID-19 and healthcare are at the forefront of most urban voters’ minds, it is beneficial to look at other policy areas that impact cities. Although provincial governments and city halls make most of the policy that directly affects city-regions, the federal parties still covet the metropolitan vote. How do the four major political parties stack up against one another on key urban issues? Urban Policy Lab Graduate Fellow Sean McGowan provides a breakdown in this special election primer for the School of Cities.
All parties agree that there needs to be an increase in supply, with each party pledging to build more housing. They also agree on fighting foreign interference in the housing market with the Liberals and Conservatives pledging a two-year ban of new ownership by those not planning to live in Canada. The NDP and the Green Party would implement a foreign buyer's tax and the Green Party plans to fight the housing crisis with an empty homes tax. Additionally, the Liberal Party, NDP, and the Green Party would also implement policies that disincentivize "flipping" houses to increase affordability. The parties diverge on homeownership. The Liberals and Conservatives focus on financial mechanisms to expedite homeownership, whereas the NDP and the Green Party advocate securing affordable housing for vulnerable populations and establishing rent protections.
Regardless of the policies proposed by the main parties, the biggest hurdle for creating more housing is largely outside of federal control: gaining approvals and zoning from City Halls.
Economy and COVID Relief
Among many proposed economic catalysts, small businesses and jobs are particularly crucial to metropolitan centres. Most urban economic policy consists of supporting small businesses and expanding the COVID-19 Employment Insurance (EI) spending. Still, urban voters will discern some crucial differences between the parties. The Conservatives have pledged to provide up to $200,000 in loans for small and medium firms and pay 25% to 50% of new employees' salaries for six months, for a total of $2.2 billion. In contrast, the Liberal Party has set aside $1.4 billion on small business loans for upgrades. The Green Party promises $1 billion for green venture capital funds for start-ups. The NDP has pledged to implement rent and wage subsidies, as well as a long-term hiring bonus to pay the employer portion of Employment Insurance. This builds on their goal to dramatically bolster the EI system, increasing benefits until there is an established nationalized guaranteed income, which the Green Party also supports. The Liberals plan on extending EI for the self-employed and making the system more accessible. The Conservative Party focuses less on the EI, only expanding sick leave, but seeks to establish funding and specialized loans for those who want to retrain. Each of these different approaches to economic recovery could be catalysts for urban business, providing either the necessary means to conduct business in the new realities of a COVID world or new opportunities for workers to find jobs in urban commercial corridors.
Emissions targets and carbon pricing will have a major impact on city infrastructure and transportation. In their 2019 mandate, the Liberals planned to raise carbon pricing to $170 per tonne by 2030, which the NDP supports, and the Greens look to ambitiously increase. The Conservatives have taken an individual approach, promising to create low carbon savings accounts for all Canadians to spend on green purchases when they buy fossil fuel products. Each party has also mandated emission decreases, committing to at least a 30% drop below 2005 levels by 2030. With large emission cuts, the Federal Parties have provided supports cities can use to reduce their emission targets. The Liberal Party plans to provide individuals $5,000 in grants to purchase an electric car, reduce tax rates for companies developing zero-emission technologies, and accelerate new transit projects. The Conservative Party’s plan is to invest in hydrogen tech, require green retrofits in federal buildings, and introduce a zero-emission vehicle mandate based on the policy in British Columbia. The NDP has promised to retrofit all buildings in Canada by 2050, increase building funds, offer low-interest loans to households making energy-efficient improvements, and electrifying transit. The Greens have taken a general approach by promising to transition to green transportation passenger vehicles and expanding the network of electric vehicles and charging stations.
Addressing systematic racism and equality is a priority in Canadian cities reflected by the fact that 95.9% of Canada’s visible minorities live in one of Canada's metropolitan regions. This area of the major party's platforms varies widely. The NDP plans to prioritize race-based data on government decisions, place more requirements on policing, bolster protections for gender-based violence and employment equity, and boost federal funding for restorative justice programs. At the same time, it would proactively expunge criminal records for people convicted of minor cannabis possession and remove most mandatory minimum sentences. The Liberal party is funding legal support and youth justice programs aimed at helping overrepresented populations of racialized groups in the justice system. It also adds employment aids to help minority-owned small businesses and strengthen access to financing and mentorship for women in the workforce. The Green party would focus on environmental justice, refocus the criminal justice system on rehabilitation and mental health, and tackle systematic racism by implementing the recommendations from all reports and commissions into systemic racism in Canada. The Conservative Party is taking an enforcement-based approach by strengthening support for women and children in domestic violence disputes and human trafficking. It supports providing training for non-provincial police forces in sexual exploitation, cyber security, and online offences, as well as investigation of sexual offences.
Although other issues deeply affect the electoral populate, city issues will strongly impact the election and may decide the race. Urban voters count!