Praising the Federation of Canadian Municipalities

I remain so grateful to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for your leadership on issues of sustainability. Municipalities, large and small, rural and urban, represent a level of government with daunting responsibilities. I agree with your most recent policy paper. It hardly makes sense to remain wedded to the division of powers of 1867.

Canada was then a largely rural and agrarian population. Setting out that municipal and local governments were creatures of provincial powers alone made more sense when only 20% of our population lived in cities. To remain bound by it now, in 2013, is to accept that anachronisms rule.

Not that anyone thinks it will be easy to re-think local governments as a level of governance beyond either provincial or federal levels of power. Still, the fact that it will be difficult cannot nullify the fact that we need to have the conversation. There may be other ways to re-balance our fiscal burden in order to allow municipal governments to raise the funds and revenues required to invest in badly needed infrastructure and local services. Perhaps provincial and federal governments can enter into extra-Constitutional arrangements that respect the reality that municipalities, despite recent commitments such as the permanence of the gas tax to municipal governments, face deep and dangerous levels of infrastructure deficits. Regardless of where tax dollars are collected, and as we all know, out of every dollar collected only 8 cents goes to local government, it is axiomatic that there is only one taxpayer. That taxpayer knows that the most direct level of government in their day to day experience, running busses and streetcars, collecting garbage and recycling, treating and delivering municipal water, operating parks and recreational facilities, swimming pools and soccer fields, is the local town or city. Surely we can, in the 21st Century, update a nineteenth century conception of government.

And if we cannot, how do we bridge the gap between crumbling infrastructure and a modern, technologically advanced future for Canada?