Federal Budget Must Support Western Communities
Randy Goulden, Charlie Clark, and Paul McLauchlin
A full year into this global pandemic, and the economic fallout of COVID-19 continues to unfold in cities and communities across the country.
In Canada’s western communities, economic anxiety didn’t begin with the pandemic. Vital sectors like energy and forestry—which have supported entire generations of families—now face increased pressure. Recent events like the cancellation of Keystone XL and uncertainty over Enbridge’s Line 5 have many western Canadians worried about their future. COVID-19 is only making things worse.
So when the federal government delivers its budget this spring, it will need to include dedicated support for hard-hit western communities—so we can protect and create jobs for our residents, now and for years to come.
As western municipal leaders ourselves—and as chairs of FCM’s Western Economic Solutions Taskforce (WEST)—we see this economic anxiety up close. WEST unites rural and urban municipal leaders from Canada’s four western provinces. Together, we’re bringing local western voices straight to senior federal decision-makers—and proposing concrete economic solutions that reflect the realities western Canadians face.
WEST is calling on the federal government to take immediate action in Budget 2021 to help western communities. We’re urging Ottawa to support our natural resources and agricultural sectors by expanding the National Trade Corridors Fund by $1 billion over three years—to boost exports and get resources to market, in partnership with Indigenous governments and communities. We’re advocating for new investments in the Rail Safety Improvement Program so municipalities can make grade crossings safer. And we’re recommending urgent assistance for struggling farmers to deal with the added costs related to carbon pricing.
WEST is also calling on the federal government to ensure that new regional development agencies for the Prairies and British Columbia are properly funded—increasing their budget by at least $600 million over three years. Ensuring these new agencies are robust, and that they respond to local needs, will be crucial to driving economic development across the west.
Part of supporting communities means building on what’s already working. For local leaders, that’s the federal Gas Tax Fund. Every year the Gas Tax Fund directly empowers municipalities to create jobs and raise people’s quality of life—whether it’s repairing local roads or upgrading a recreation facility. It’s also a highly effective stimulus tool. WEST recommends doubling the Gas Tax Fund allocation for three years so communities of all sizes can kickstart job-creating infrastructure projects that meet local needs.
Empowering western innovation to drive economic recovery
While Budget 2021 will clearly focus on immediate economic challenges, now is also the time to be thinking about the country we want on the other side of this pandemic. COVID-19 has taught us so much about how vulnerable we can be, but also about what we’re capable of as Canadians. And so we’ll be looking to this budget to begin laying the foundation for a strong post-pandemic Canada.
Western Canadians can lead the way in transforming Canada’s energy sector for the 21st century. After all, western innovation has long driven national prosperity. That’s why WEST is urging the federal government to implement and fund Canada’s new Hydrogen Strategy. Not only would this create opportunities in a burgeoning new industry, it would add even more value to Canada’s world-leading natural resources—with a lower carbon footprint.
WEST is also proposing a new Energy Transition Community Infrastructure Fund. This would enable local leaders in energy-producing regions to protect and create good, family-supporting jobs as Canada moves toward a net-zero emissions future. Steps like these would show a real commitment to progress for western communities.
Every region of our country needs to be part of shaping our common future. That’s what the WEST taskforce is all about. And we’re making progress. Last April’s $1.7 billion federal investment into cleaning up orphaned and inactive oil and gas wells was a direct response to a WEST recommendation—one that will create 5,200 jobs while reducing environmental and safety risks in western communities. We were also pleased to see the federal government heed FCM’s call last fall by investing in an expanded Universal Broadband Fund to bring high-speed Internet to more rural Canadians, a crucial step toward finally closing this country’s digital divide.
The fact is, Canada is at its best when every one of us can thrive. Budget 2021 needs to take concrete steps to support western communities today—and to begin shaping a bright economic future for the people who proudly call them home.
Randy Goulden, Charlie Clark and Paul McLauchlin chair the Western Economic Solutions Taskforce of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. FCM is the national voice of local governments, with more than 2,000 members representing 90 percent of Canadians.