Once again, Canada’s lack of infrastructure growth is front and centre in the news. Whether it is more subways in Toronto or increased infrastructure spending in Vancouver, Canadians coast to coast are demanding more efficient and less time-consuming transportation options.
The countrywide issue seemed to come to a head once ride sharing service, Uber, set up shop in the Great White North. However, it was only a matter of time before tensions regarding the lack of infrastructure investment came to a boiling point.
The issue is so important to Canada’s diverse population that Justin Trudeau won last fall’s federal election on a campaign that vowed to invest $60 billion dollars into Canada’s ailing infrastructure over 10 years. To kickstart the infrastructure initiative, Trudeau has embarked on a cross country tour to meet with 22 big city mayors, as well as a number officials representing smaller cities and municipalities.
“We are restarting a relationship that had been significantly neglected over the last 10 years,” Trudeau told the press in early February. “[We need to be] responding to the very real needs for infrastructure investment that will lead to jobs and the kind of growth in our economy that that we haven’t had over the past decade.”
The federal action couldn’t come at a better time and has been hailed as a step in the right direction by The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has said publicly he and his colleagues are “thrilled” to be working alongside a prime minister who really “gets cities.”
While Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre told the CBC, “The new reality is that cities are part of the plan, part of the deal. We have to work together.”
The lack of infrastructure investment across the board has become so pervasive and nuanced that it is manifesting in a variety of related sectors, mainly transportation. The lack of federal capital has put a lot of strain on cities to cover the costs of public transportation growth. This as mentioned by Michael Genereux, President of Gestion Termico, a Montreal-based public transportation company. He added that cities have not been able to keep up with the demand.
As Gestion Termico’s Michael Genereux pointed out, cash strapped cities can’t be expected to keep existing public transport up and running while investing in new routes and lines without having access to federal coffers.
Michael Genereux also noted how Canadians are demanding more transportation options, and that the federal government is finally listening.
When UberX began servicing Canada in 2014, they highlighted the growing chasm between poor federal public transportation infrastructure investment and high taxi rates. UberX immediately developed a large client base in Canada’s economic centres, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, much to the chagrin of cab operators, who have protested the company’s regulation status.
Ironically, the cross country cabbie contention has culminated with taxi drivers in two of Canada’s major cities striking over the Family Day long weekend. The protest aims to bring cities who already struggle with congestion and gridlock on a good day, to a grinding halt.
Montreal taxi drivers spent February 10th protesting outside the Trudeau airport and blocking UberX drivers from picking up clients.
“In Montreal, you cannot sell chewing gum if you don’t pay the GST and PST. How can a multi-billion dollar company come and practice this tax evasion for the past two years and get unpunished,” said taxi driver Hassan Kattoua. “There’s something weird going on.”
The day-long strike is a precursor to the Toronto taxi driver protest planned for February 13th during the city’s first NBA All Star Weekend.
While the UberX-cab driver saga is only one of the many of infrastructure issues, the February protests indicate the widespread effects infrastructure stagnation has on Canada’s economy and citizens.