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FCM driven by impactful 2023, but busy times ahead

by Sean Meyer, Municipal World
in FCM, Leadership, Management
January, 2024

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is the national voice for local governments. Given the number of challenges facing Canadian municipalities, it isn’t surprising FCM staff were busy in 2023. But that said, they also accomplished a lot during what the organization’s CEO calls “an impactful and consequential year.”

Carole Saab points to the nation’s affordability crisis, homelessness, and climate change as top concerns.

“There was a lot to grapple with for municipalities across the country really, the national challenges that everybody is seized with across orders of government came home to roost in municipalities,” Saab said. “Now to not be overly grim, it’s fair to say when in the face of challenges, you can also see some important progress on solutions.”

Infrastructure Alarm Bells

While FCM was focused on these big problems, infrastructure became a core municipal concern. As Saab points out, 60 per cent of all infrastructure is municipally owned and operated. Also, federal infrastructure investments are soon to expire.

This reality is one reason Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke at FCM ‘s annual conference this past summer. During his appearance, Trudeau committed to a plan for the next generation of infrastructure. The promise, Saab said, comes at a time when Canada is growing at a fast rate. As such, it has been said the nation needs some 3.5 million homes to be built above the current trend to restore housing affordability

This reality is one reason FCM sounded the alarm for federal assistance with local infrastructure. FCM is still waiting for formal announcements of this federal infrastructure promise. But Saab is quick to add FCM has remained “pretty proactive” on better articulating municipal needs.

Helping drive that work was FCM research that shows the level of investment it takes to support a housing unit is about $107,000.

“You can tell, the scale of the need is significant and 2023 was in the midst of all of those crises playing out,” Saab said. We are really trying to also keep a steady beat on the necessity of core infrastructure. That’s going to be a baseline for all these other things that the government needs to do to address the concerns Canadians are facing.”

While housing is one of the biggest challenges, Saab said it is also where “we started to see some really tangible progress. Which is encouraging.”

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Focus on Climate Change

Of the myriad of issues facing municipalities, Saab said there also was considerable focus on climate change in 2023. FCM, she said, has undertaken numerous initiatives from an advocacy perspective. The goalis to push for both mitigation but also adaptation dollars to continue facing this challenge.

Saab said it has been “a big year for FCM” from a climate perspective. Through the Green Municipal Fund (GMF), FCM was able to ramp up support to local governments through investment of the federal government.

FCM also announced it would also be supporting Canada’s efforts in growing more trees. This commitment is being driven through the Growing Canada’s Community Canopies (GCCC) initiative. The GCCC will be funded through Ottawa’s 2 Billion Trees program, which is a further expansion of GMF’s mandate to focus on nature-based climate solutions.

“What you’re seeing is local government doing everything we can do within our means to both try to mitigate, but also adapt, to climate,” Saab said. “But this is an area that’s going to be a great focus to us as we move into 2024.”

Fixing a Broken System

All these municipal obstacles, and many others, were symptoms of what Saab calls “a broken system.”

FCM has been pushing hard for what it is calling a new fiscal framework for municipalities. Whether it is was through FCM, or a more focused view through its Big City Mayors’ Caucus (BCMC), the call has gone out to both the federal government and their provincial counterparts for a new way to address everything from housing and homelessness to mental health and addiction.

FCM has been fighting this battle for years, but Saab said 2023 gave her hope that the conversation is beginning to turn.

Saab pointed to efforts in Quebec City and Montreal, not to mention the recent “new deal” between Ontario and the City of Toronto, as proof that a new fiscal model is no longer an abstract thought.

“It feels to us like we’ve moved the needle [on a new fiscal model] and that there is an active conversation about it where there wasn’t one,” Saab said. “Now we’re having this kind of conversation very tangibly with our federal counterparts, increasingly with provincial counterparts. It’s simply not tenable to grow at the rate we need to grow unless we figure out how this is going to be supported at a local level.”

Stepping Up for Women

Homelessness, affordability, and opioid addiction are just some of the so-called wicked problems facing municipalities. But Saab said FCM remains committed to also addressing an issue all too often seen from not only the hidden corners of social media, but within the council chambers as well.

Saab said she is “significantly alarmed” by the harassment local elected officials face on a regular basis. This anger is often directed at all genders. But too often, the most intense attacks are being directed at women in leadership positions across the board.

As such, it is affecting the retention of women in politics. This is especially true with underrepresented women such as Indigenous, Black, other racialized women, and members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in the political realm.

Late last year, FCM celebrated that women now represent 31 per cent of all municipal elected officials in Canada. That’s a milestone. But Saab is quick to add that the number is not high enough.

Saab said it is encouraging to see more women involved politics. But even so, there is so much more work to do to not only achieve parity, but to also address the kind of hate and vitriol that women are facing all too often.

“It’s crucial that these voices are held and retained in positions of leadership, particularly within local government. It is another core piece of our work,” Saab said. “Everything we’re doing, and everything we’re advocating for, is going to be better if the voices around the table are as diverse as our country is. And so that’s going to be our goal.”

Growth Year for FCM

Like the many municipalities it represents, FCM also faced more than a few challenges in 2023.

Saab said 2023 was an “action packed” year at FCM. It was also one of the organization’s most ambitious when it comes to their advocacy efforts. That, she said, required an internal shift to an “all hands on deck” approach by her team. It also necessitated member and stakeholder engagement ramping up in a more ambitious way.

“It’s been a year of real growth for us organizationally as well, which is positive,” Saab said. “Everyone I know, every time I meet with our staff, they knock my socks off. I don’t think there’s anyone that comes to work at FCM for any other reason than the fact that they’re super excited about the kind of impact that they can have across the country.”  MW

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


Sean Meyer is Digital Content Editor for Municipal World.

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