TORONTO - Saying successive federal governments have ignored the country's cities, New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair on Friday said his party would launch national consultations on urban issues.
Mulcair said cities such as Toronto are vital to Canada's economic growth and require support from the federal government.
"Unfortunately, today in Ottawa, we've got a government that simply doesn't understand the challenges facing communities like this one," Mulcair said in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada.
"Our largest cities, our country's most important economic engine, have been treated with neglect and even disdain by its own federal government."
Mulcair said the national consultation would happen in cities across the country, starting in Toronto, but gave few details of what he hoped to achieve.
Far from investing in infrastructure in his last budget, Mulcair said Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had in fact delivered a "shell" plan that would cut $5.8 billion less over five years.
"Cities are responsible for 40 per cent of the infrastructure in this country and have only eight per cent of the tax base," Mulcair said.
In response, Flaherty said Mulcair was "no friend" of the Toronto area.
"The NDP and Thomas Mulcair have rejected every single investment made in the (Greater Toronto Area) since 2006," Flaherty said in a statement.
"Even worse, the NDP voted against the GTA getting more, long-term, predictable infrastructure funding every year by voting against our positive action to double the gas tax fund, make it permanent, and index it for inflation."
Mulcair's plan, Flaherty said, is to bring in new taxes — such as a carbon tax — that will take money away from Canadians.
But the Opposition leader said New Democrats would provide long-term, predictable local infrastructure funding by way of transferring another one cent from the existing gas tax to fund local transit projects — $420 million in new money.
Mulcair also said "middle-class jobs" have been disappearing and the government has done little to help create more of them.
He warned the cost to the economy of traffic gridlock and air pollution are rising, making Canadians' lives less affordable and city life less livable.
He talked about young people or new immigrants who can't find decent jobs and said urban workers are "struggling like never before."
Mulcair invoked the name of Jack Layton in saying the federal government had backed out of funding affordable housing, a cause his late predecessor championed.
NDP governments, he said, had the best track record of balanced budgets of any party.
Organizers set aside 10 minutes for questions from the floor, but no one had any.