Canada needs to establish major national urbanism programs and policies, and the NDP can lead the way.
Canada lacks policy and discourse about urbanism at the federal level. It also lacks it at the provincial level and often, unfortunately, even at the municipal level, where the discourse often degenerates into insult and invective.
This is a gap the NDP could fill by becoming Canada’s urban party.
“Urban” should be distinguished from “municipal,” which is about city government, and even “city,” which is about boundary-defined political regions. Urbanism is about how people live in close proximity to each other, about the infrastructure and social arrangements they construct to create the conditions of their lives. It is not only in our big cities that these vital moments of urbanism occur, but also in our smaller cities and towns. In fact, urbanism is the condition for almost 90 per cent of Canadians.
Urbanism involves where people live, how they get around, and how they become integrated in the life of their neighbourhood and community. In large-policy terms, it involves issues of public transit, low-income and supportive housing, social cohesion, and immigration.
Canada is unique in the developed world in not having major national government policies or programs in these critical areas of urban life. There are only occasional grants for transit, small-housing initiatives, and immigration programs aimed at deciding who gets in rather than how they get settled and integrated.
Our cities are the principal wealth generators of the country and home to the vast majority of Canadians. They drive our international competitiveness and prosperity. Such policy and discourse neglect by successive Liberal and Conservative governments leaves an open door for the NDP to walk through.
The party should develop strong transit policies that differentiate between the large urban regions that require subway and light-rail transit (LRT) expansions, second-tier cities with LRT and bus-ways, and smaller centres that need both intra- and inter-city bus lines to connect them to their regions.
It should develop policies for low-income housing to help stabilize the workforce in quality housing close to their places of employment, and for supportive housing where people with disabilities can receive the care they need to connect to the labour market and lead productive and dignified lives.
The NDP should also have policies to help newcomers integrate into neighbourhoods and the labour market. Bridging programs for kids to succeed in school, credential recognition and training to help their parents find the work they are qualified for, and assistance for employers in renovating their human resource management so they’re better at hiring immigrants are all programs that would give the NDP a competitive advantage.
In the absence of a focused and concentrated effort by other parties, the NDP could become the party of Canada’s urban communities. By recognizing urbanism as the most commonly shared experience of Canadians, and building strong policy responses to it, the NDP could vastly increase its base and become a real contender to form a government.