Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Office of Urban Policy

From the Obama camp: when he takes office he will create a White House Office of Urban Policy to coordinate all federal urban programs.

From the Obama Urban Policy Fact Sheet:

"Create a White House Office on Urban Policy: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will take the federal government’s role in supporting urban America seriously. Today, government programs aimed at strengthening metropolitan areas are spread across the federal government – including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, Department of Labor and Department of Commerce – with insufficient coordination or strategy. Worse, many federal programs inadvertently undermine cities and regions by encouraging inefficient and costly patterns of development and local competition.

Obama and Biden will create a White House Office of Urban Policy to develop a strategy for metropolitan America and to ensure that all federal dollars targeted to urban areas are effectively spent on the highest-impact programs. The Director of Urban Policy will report directly to the president and coordinate all federal urban programs".

Canada had a Minister of State for Urban Affairs beginning in 1970 and lasting until 1979. Since then, oddly enough, the Feds' relationship with cities has become closer than ever. If I remember correctly it was Winnipeg's tripartite Core Area Initiative signed in 1981 that was one of the first agreements where the feds signed on directly with a city as an equal partner, rather than just assign the money to a province. Since that time, in Winnipeg alone, numerous agreements flowed: CAI II, The Forks North Portage Redevelopment Corp, the WDA.

The 90's saw the advent of numerous Infrastructure Programs that continue to this day where the feds equal partner with cities on a variety of programs and capital projects from transit to limited housing. The 00's saw the Feds distributing tax money to cities directly though a portion of the gasoline tax.

The last time I can recall urban issues being a top priority for a government was in 2001 when Chr√©tien announced the Prime Minister's Caucus task Force on Urban Issues. The final report, released in November 2002 by Chair Judy Sgro entitled Canada's Urban Strategy: A Blueprint for Action. The Final Report of the Prime Minister’s Caucus Task Force on Urban Issues.

It recommended, in part, the recreation of a Ministry:

as well as the creation of an external advisory committee made up of stakeholders to advise the Minister.

This time around the Conservatives in their platform offered cash, but nothing beyond that, to urban issues:

A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will continue to invest in critical infrastructure for our cities and communities. The Conservative Government has already committed to investing $33 billion in infrastructure between 2007 and 2014 under the Building Canada Plan and to continuing the gas tax transfer to municipalities at a permanent level of $2 billion per year after 2014.

Is it time for the Feds to recreate a Ministry of Urban Affairs again ? One department in charge of dispensing cash to cities and trying to ensure one national goal for it's urban related programs Is it preferable for municipalities to urge the feds, instead, to be more hands off. Just hand over more cash with no strings attached and let the cities figure out how to divvy it up ?

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