Editorial: Federal issues that hit home in Hamilton
When we talk about a federal election, there's a tendency to think about issues and politics writ large — national leadership, foreign policy, Canada on the world stage, managing federal finances, national unity or disunity.
But if you stop and think, you will see many national issues are also local, and some of those issues are particularly important in particular jurisdictions. So today, let's discuss election issues that are, or should be, of particular importance to Hamilton and surrounding area.
Earlier this week, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities did a useful thing by releasing its own platform — ostensibly a wish list of issues to improve quality of life in communities across the country. The platform asks federal parties to commit billions of dollars to local transit, cutting emissions and helping towns and cities prepare for and mitigate the challenges of climate change.
All sorts of infrastructure requires strengthening in the face of extreme climate — roads, bridges, sewer and water systems. This is especially important given that provincial governments, certainly Ontario's, are barely lifting fingers to help municipalities plan and cope. Fair enough, and ample reason for the federal government to open channels and work directly with local governments that are closest to the ground, feel the impact most and are in the best position to act quickly and practically.
To be fair, it's not as if the feds do nothing now. Through the Gas Tax Fund, Ottawa sent $2.2 billion to 3,600 municipalities last year. But as the FCM points out, things are getting more drastic quickly, and more is needed, so the platform's call to double the gas tax contribution is timely and appropriate.
Climate change isn't the only issue that manifests nationally and locally. Consider housing.
Across the country, housing issues mean different things. In the most expensive cities — Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver — the top priority might be affordability, which is why the Liberals, for example, want to offer more assistance to first-time home buyers in those cities.
Getting young families into houses is an issue here, too, but not as much as the affordable and social housing crisis. Hamilton has a waiting list of 6,700 individuals or families waiting for subsidized housing. The Trudeau Liberals' housing strategy committed $170 million over a decade, but the city hasn't seen that money yet. That money and more is needed to address the crisis, including repairs to 6,000 or so existing units.
On housing, too, cities cannot count on support from the province, which has basically turned its back on municipal issues other than cutting money. The Trudeau government's national housing strategy is one option, and other parties may have others. But we need to keep housing front and centre. It's an issue that resonates more in Hamilton than many other places.
The same is true of pension reform. We have the lived experience of Stelco, where thousands of pensioners faced the threat of losing benefits and income. The Liberals pledged to support pensioners, but haven't come close to reforming legislation to give pensioners more rights in situations like bankruptcy. That has caused the steelworkers union to set its sight on the Liberals, which is fair enough. But will other parties promise the reform pension protection? Can you picture Conservatives doing so?