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Municipal vision alive on national stage

by Clark Somerville
in Economic Development, Magazine
In November, FCM was on Parliament Hill to meet with 190 parliamentarians – including 14 cabinet ministers – to highlight municipal priorities for Phase 2 of the federal infrastructure plan.

From Corner Brook to Churchill to Coquitlam, municipalities of all sizes are central to Canada’s success. It’s in municipalities where we tackle national challenges, like economic growth and climate change. It’s in municipalities where we spark the innovation that drives a globally-competitive and more sustainable Canada. And, it’s in municipalities where we go to work, buy a home, and raise our families.

This is the message that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has been bringing to the federal government. It’s the core of an ongoing advocacy campaign led by FCM that has secured unprecedented federal commitments for municipal priorities and put local issues at the heart of the national agenda. Now more than ever, the federal government understands the vital role municipalities play in shaping Canada’s future. The result is a historic moment for the municipal sector.

How we got here is a story of impressive unity and strength by municipalities. This is a story that has the potential to touch the life of every Canadian.

Getting Local Priorities on the National Stage

In late 2014, FCM launched an initiative called Hometown Proud, which encouraged Canadians to share the best of their community. It was an opportunity to highlight local priorities ahead of the upcoming federal election. Almost immediately, Canadians from urban centres and rural towns to northern and remote villages began to share their community’s hopes, and ideas to make them happen. The response was terrific, and a sign of things to come.

FCM seized on this momentum to make the case for local priorities in the 2015 federal election. The board of directors began reaching out to candidates from all parties, asking them to support priorities that are core to the quality of life of Canadians. We equipped municipal leaders from across the country with tools to help them organize local debates and track the issues that matter to their communities. In June, FCM unveiled its federal election platform – A Roadmap for Strong Cities and Communities.

Our election message was simple: investing in the places where we live provides a clear and measurable return by creating good jobs, stimulating economic growth, and giving every Canadian the opportunity to reach their full potential. In other words, community building is nation building. Any party that was serious about building a better Canada and improving the lives of Canadians would need to put forward a plan that strengthens municipalities.

That’s exactly what happened. Over the course of the 78-day campaign, every major federal party responded – fully or in part – to the priorities laid out by FCM. There were 155 references to infrastructure in federal party platforms. There were 88 references to housing, and another 35 to public transit. We saw commitments to wastewater treatment and rural broadband. The very issues that Canadians told us they cared about were now front and centre. Municipal leaders weren’t just part of the national agenda – we were helping to shape it. Election 2015 was a huge step forward for the municipal sector.

In the weeks that followed election day, the unprecedented municipal advocacy grew even stronger. We quickly released Cities and Communities: Partners in Canada’s Future, a document that outlined actions the government should take within its first 100 days to move quickly on its commitments. Within days of being elected, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed to FCM his commitment to work with municipalities to make good on his ambitious agenda. We began meeting regularly with key cabinet ministers, from Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi to Finance Minister Bill Morneau to Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna.

It was, quite simply, a degree of high-level engagement I had never seen in my nearly 20 years of municipal elected office.

Partners to Build Our Communities

FCM was fast becoming a key partner of the new federal government as they looked to deliver on their infrastructure agenda. The first milestone in that process was the government’s inaugural budget, which FCM knew would be a vital opportunity to tap into local innovation and expertise to achieve national goals. The municipal sector has long been a trusted and effective partner of the federal government, from the Federal Gas Tax Fund to the New Building Canada Fund. So, FCM’s pre-budget submission, Rising to the Moment, made the case for strengthening that partnership.

The 2016 Federal Budget – released March 22 – delivered some critical first steps in the government’s historic 10-year, $120-billion infrastructure plan. Phase 1 included nearly $12 billion in investments in local priorities like water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, as well as public transit and affordable housing. Not only that, it increased to 50 percent the maximum federal contribution to new infrastructure projects – a key ask of the municipal sector – and, it entrusted FCM with a pair of new programs to help municipalities with asset management and climate change.

The investments didn’t stop there. In November, as part of the fall fiscal update, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that the federal government was expanding Phase 2 of its infrastructure plan to $81 billion over 11 years – up from $48 billion over 8 years. The new investments included a $2 billion fund dedicated to rural, remote, and northern infrastructure needs, which was something FCM urgently recommended. The fiscal update as a whole represented a major upgraded commitment to the municipal priorities put forward by FCM.
Put together, these transformative investments will shape communities of all sizes, in every region of Canada. They’ll mean more growth, more jobs, and stronger communities. And, they’ll show once again that solutions to some of this country’s biggest national challenges can be found in our cities and communities.

Preparing for a Stronger Future

Of course, our work is far from over. Much of the federal government’s infrastructure plan has yet to be allocated. That’s expected soon. It’s these upcoming commitments that will make up the bulk of the long-term funding municipalities rely on. And, it’s these upcoming commitments that have the potential to transform our communities and reshape Canada.

With so much at stake, FCM and its members continue to renew and revitalize the federal-municipal partnership. Within weeks of the fall fiscal update, FCM was back on Parliament Hill for our annual Advocacy Days, highlighting municipal priorities for Phase 2 of the federal infrastructure plan. Over the course of four days, our board of directors met with a remarkable 190 Members of Parliament and Senators, including 14 cabinet ministers. It was by far our biggest Advocacy Days yet. FCM’s message was that Phase 2 infrastructure investments are a historic opportunity to strengthen Canada by strengthening communities – and that municipal leaders have a central role to play. We also discussed with our federal partners the urgent need to tackle the housing crisis that’s undermining Canada’s potential as an inclusive, prosperous nation.

As Prime Minister Trudeau said at FCM’s annual conference last June, municipalities are best positioned to tap into local expertise and identify projects that offer the best return on investment. After all, municipal leaders understand what’s at stake in our cities and communities, and we have a strong track record of delivering infrastructure projects efficiently, fairly, and with accountability. So, when local governments are engaged in bringing forward solutions, it’s Canadians who benefit the most.

In the 19th century, it was grand railway projects that built this country. In the 20th century, it was new ports and networks that connected us to each other, and to the world. Today – more than ever – nation building is happening in our cities and communities. It happens when we build prosperous, vibrant, and sustainable places to call home. It happens when we ensure 21st century transit and housing that attract the best and brightest. And, it happens when we support the quality of life Canadians deserve.

With Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation just around the corner, we’re closer than ever to building the Canada of tomorrow. As municipal leaders, this is our moment to turn our vision into reality.  MW

CLARK SOMERVILLE is President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities – Canada’s national voice for local governments. He is also a town and regional councillor in the Town of Halton Hills and Halton Region, Ontario.

as published in Municipal World, February 2017 issue

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