October’s federal election is shaping up to be a contest about who can make Canadians’ lives better. Already, we see every major party telling voters they have the best plan to make life more affordable and secure.
Local governments understand this frame well. After all, we’re Canada’s builders. We build the things Canadians see every day—roads and transit systems, rec centres, police forces, green spaces, and much more. As the order of government closest to Canadians, we make the most of the tools we’ve got to make life better, more affordable and more secure.
So earlier this month, nearly 2,100 mayors, councillors and municipal officials met in Quebec City for a record-breaking gathering of local leaders, launching our campaign to make Canadians’ local priorities a centrepiece of the next federal election.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) largest-ever annual conference put on full display the unity and resolve of Canada’s municipal leaders. We may come from different communities—different sizes, different regions and different realities—but when local governments come together, we speak with one voice.
And with that united voice, we delivered a clear message to every federal party: if you’re serious about building better lives this election, you need to empower local governments to do more for Canadians.
FCM’s conference also served as an important forum to strengthen the unprecedented engagement between municipal leaders and the federal government—engagement that’s helped drive the national agenda in recent years, yielding historic results for Canadians.
All four major party leaders—including the prime minister—came to Québec City to share their visions with conference delegates and to meet with senior FCM leadership. Nearly two dozen MPs from all parties attended workshops and discussions with local leaders. And FCM’s Big City Mayors’ Caucus met with MPs and senior party officials to discuss their upcoming election platforms.
Federal parties recognize that our on-the-ground municipal expertise is essential to delivering for Canadians. Local leaders see up close the hopes and challenges that people face, and we deliver cost-effective solutions that work. It’s why the government has heeded our advice on everything from the $180-billion federal infrastructure plan to Canada’s first National Housing Strategy.
And it’s why 2019 budget doubled-down on working directly with municipal leaders. Growing this year’s gas tax fund transfer directly empowers local governments to move more infrastructure projects forward—right now. Major new funding for FCM’s Green Municipal Fund will drive large-scale, cost-saving energy-efficiency projects in communities nationwide. Altogether, this year’s budget elevates the federal-municipal partnership as the way to build better lives.
But there’s still a problem. Municipal tools and authorities were never designed to tackle 21st century challenges. Everyone knows our toolbox is fundamentally outdated. As the frontline order of government, that puts the people we serve at a disadvantage. So this election, we’re focused on modernizing how governments work together to better serve Canadians.
That means larger-scale, predictable funding tools for municipalities that enable essential local expertise to meet the needs of Canadians, where they live. Unlocking the incredible potential of our cities and communities is key to building tomorrow’s Canada—with globally competitive economies, world-class transit and exceptionally livable communities.
Modernization also means ensuring local leaders have a seat at the nation-building table, as full partners. This just makes sense. Many of this country’s biggest national challenges—from economic growth to housing affordability to safely implementing legalized cannabis—run through local governments. There’s no reason Canadians’ elected governments can’t work more closely together.
Last month, a major poll by Abacus Data confirmed what municipal leaders already know: Canadians trust their local governments most. A full 61 percent said municipal leaders are best placed to understand their needs. And 84 percent said they believe the federal government should give municipalities permanent, dedicated funding tools to help solve their challenges.
Canadians trust their local leaders because they see us out in their communities—solving problems and creating opportunities. They know we make the most of every dollar available, and they hold us accountable to that. While other orders of government can seem distant from the needs of everyday Canadians, we remain deeply connected to the people we serve.
It’s clear: putting the right tools in local hands is something most people agree on. So coming out of FCM’s conference and heading to the election 2019, municipalities stand ready to continue working with every federal party to empower Canada’s local leaders. Because that’s how we’ll build better lives.
Bill Karsten is president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
The Hill Times
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