The Green Gap

In the Cold War, we feared a Missile Gap was a strategic weakness. Nowadays, we must awaken to the fact that the Green Gap is true strategic weakness: the nations whose economies will thrive in the coming years will not be those with the biggest factories, but those with the most sustainable, efficient, and ecological markets. What we require is a Strategic "Green Reserve" of ecological design to weather the coming changes that both climate and resource scarcity will force on the international economy.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Last of the Jane Jacobs Books

I finished Dark Age Ahead on the plane up to Beijing. This work has a lot more of Jane in it, and a lot more Canada. I have to admit, there were a number of things that moved me deeply, and I can't help but be affected by what she calls the "provincial kleptocracy". The type of bookeeping provinces are able to keep makes it nigh impossible to trace what is done with a lot of money transferred from the federal government. Only about 6% of the money collected by the government from Toronto, for example, actually goes back to Toronto. While we can make fun of the bluster and silliness of Rob Ford, there is one thing that links him to every other mayor of Toronto... his job basically necessitates he go cap in hand to the province for money, because the only way he can raise money is through property taxes and user fees... and user fees don't really pay for much.

Jacobs makes the point that government close to the population does the best service for the population. Cities provide direct services to Canadians. Whereas Health and Education have tidbits of themselves at every level of government, Calgary has the Calgary Health Region and the Calgary School Board - not the Alberta Health Region and the Alberta School Board. Why does the federal government constantly have to give earmarked money to provinces instead of disbursing extraordinary financing (financing outside the official budget) directly to cities? There is nothing to stop them from doing so except the ire of the provinces themselves. Provinces can't smear the central government much if the fed is giving money directly to the cities filled with voters.

The overall budget of Calgary is (net) $774,281,300. That's less than a billion dollars net expenditure. The federal government is spending $280 billion. $19 billion of that is on stimulus packages. It would be a drop in the bucket to give back money to the cities. Imagine a payment of $1000 per capita directly to each municipality from the treasury. That's a grand total of $32 billion. Slightly more than 10% of the natioal budget to make certain the most essential services Canadians require are protected and improved.

Local governments all have local problems. Luckily, they have local thinkers who can devise local solutions. By devolving this tax money back down to the municipal level, each city would be able to solve its problems in its own way, as opposed to overarching programs that may benefit some municipalities and leave others behind. Some issues are purely local.

During the recession, Canada lost jobs overall. This is a useful metric for the nation to show that there was an economic slowdown, but if you break it down, you'll see the overarching picture is not the picture in the regions. Ontario lost 71,000 jobs in the Dec 2008- Jan 2009 period. Alberta gained 3300. BC lost 35,100; Saskatchewan gained 1600. Where is the stimulus required most? These numbers are terribly disparate. I tell you what would be even more of a spanner in the stats... what if we knew what was going on in each city?

The purpose is not to illustrate that cities should be the ones to go about creating jobs - though they could. The intent here is simply to show how the Canadian economy is in no way monolithic, and different regions respond differently to complex economic situations. We should help the regions better deal with these conditions by allowing them the financial leeway to solve their pressing local problems. One size doesn't fit all.

No comments:

Post a Comment