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Big city mayors seek new fiscal deal with Ottawa, provinces

by Greg Crone, Municipal World
in FCM, Finance, Leadership
May, 2023

The mayors of Canada’s largest cities are seeking a new, modernized fiscal arrangement with the federal government and their respective provincial governments.

Fiscal reform topped the wish list of the mayors at the Big Cities Mayors’ Caucus (BCMC), representing 23 of Canada’s largest urban municipalities, which met Thursday as part of the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).

“We are looking at recognition that cities can no longer shoulder responsibility for things that in many cases are not even in our jurisdiction,” said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, BCMC chair, at a press conference following the meeting. “We’re just not going to let people suffer on the streets. We have paid for transitional housing even though homelessness is not our responsibility. People who have no place to go end up in our parks. What are we going to do? Forget they are human beings? We have to deal with them in a humane and compassionate way.”

Broken System needs Fixing

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, BCMC vice-chair, said the “broken system of fiscality” urgently needs to be fixed.

“We are looking for a vision, and we are looking for recognition that we are partners,” Plante said. “That’s what we do. We fix things, we find solutions, and we want a working partnership instead of begging.”

Toronto Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie, who was present at the press conference representing the FCM meeting’s host municipality, said Toronto’s finances have still not recovered the effects of the pandemic.

For example, she said the Toronto’s transit system is under tremendous financial pressure because it relies so heavily on farebox revenue to pay for operating costs.

“We still offer 90 percent of service but only 70 percent of ridership. Being so dependent on the fare box it is breaking our banks,” McKelvie said.

Mayors Call for New Funding Model

The federal government was represented at the BCMC meeting by Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen. The minister was promoting the government’s $4-billion Housing Accelerator Fund, to which municipalities can apply to get funding for affordable housing projects and was a measure in the most recent federal budget.

Savage said that amount of money is spread out across the country, which means thousands of municipalities are competing for the funding.

Plante said what is really needed is end the current “paternalistic” system of municipalities asking for money from the federal and provincial governments and instead develop “equal fiscality measures” so that municipalities can tap into predictable revenue streams.

“Instead of just saying we want more money, we want to find real solutions and be partners,” Plante said.

✯ Municipal World Executive and Essentials Plus Members: You might also be interested in Sean Meyer’s article: National strategy invests in municipal resiliency.

Greg Crone is Municipal World’s Executive Editor.

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Affordable housing, need for new fiscal model dominate FCM meeting