Naheed Nenshi did not, presumably, bring a hard hat and lunch pail to Thursday morning’s instalment of the Mayor’s Breakfast series. But in his keynote speech, the western dignitary issued a firm declaration: Canada needs to get to work.
“We have shovel-worthy projects across this country,” Nenshi, the mayor of Calgary, told a standing-room crowd at Ottawa City Hall. “We have water projects, road projects, we have projects in social and community infrastructure, we have projects in energy efficiency and life cycle maintenance that need to be done across this country.
“Basically, the federal government needs to now say to municipalities, ‘Here’s the money. That money comes with strict criteria on how you can spend it, it comes with stringent report-back procedures, but you, municipal leaders, understand where the money needs to be spent — so spend it.’”
Nenshi spent the bulk of his time at the podium expanding on this call for stimulus spending — a plea he may have made at a particularly opportune time. His audience included 15 fellow mayors from Canada’s largest cities, in town Thursday for the breakfast keynote and for the semi-annual Big City Mayors’ Caucus.
“Every city in this country has unfunded capital needs, and these are not frivolous things. These are things our citizens need every single day,” Nenshi said.
“At a point in history where interest rates are as low as they can possibly be, at a point in history where construction costs are going down from a hyper-inflated economy across this country, and at a point where people are out of work, now is the time to invest. Now is the time to invest in our cities, now is the time to invest in our country.”
From a certain vantage point, Nenshi’s city may be as fraught as any in Canada. Falling commodity prices have coincided with an atypically high unemployment rate, both in Calgary and across Alberta. And in other ways, Calgary is like any other municipality, Nenshi said, beset by decaying roads and fraying arena rooftops, and with citizens in need of affordable housing.
In that sense, stimulus spending to address such needs could jolt the entire local economy — especially in Calgary, where Nenshi said jobs in the oil and gas sector have been lost in lockstep with a decline in capital project investment.
“These are projects we can get underway right now. If we get a commitment from the federal government, we can have Help Wanted ads in the paper next week to make these things happen,” he said.
“This is the time — right here, right now — for us to start conversations, particularly with the federal government, around nation-shaping infrastructure, around building things that will change the way people work and live in our cities forever.”
Nick Faris is an Ottawa- and Toronto-based journalist, whose work has been featured in the National Post, Ottawa Life Magazine, the Kingston Whig-Standard and The Queen’s Journal. He is set to graduate from Queen’s University with a bachelor’s degree in political studies.