So, I get the Maclean’s magazine every week, and I read it cover-to-cover. (Even Barbara Amiel’s column, because I need to know what the ultra-right-wing-criminal-billionaire’s-wife demographic is thinking.) I really like to read Paul Wells’ Back Page, he is a really good replacement to Allan Fotheringham. The link will take you to Inkless Wells, his Weblog. My discussion focuses on his latest Back Page column. I waited a while to publish this, because it was not available until the new issue hit the newsstands.
The column is about poor David Miller, mayor of Toronto, and his plight to wheedle more money out of the federal government. Not surprisingly, Toronto’s municipal government is Canda’s sixth-largest, obviously behind Canada, Ontario, Quebec, BC and Alberta. And yet Toronto is still only a functionary of the Province of Ontario, just like London, Windsor and Sudbury… only 10 times larger than any 1 of those.
Mr. Miller’s ideas fortunately coincide with Paul Martin’s, as do a number of other mayors’ across Canada.
My problem with any ideas I’ve heard so far is that they don’t address the complicated Constitutional issues involved. All municipalities are products of the provinces, so any federal money going to the municipalities necessarily goes through the provinces. Short of Constitutional amendments (which may not be a bad idea anyway), the federal government cannot guarantee the money will go to the municipalities. Obviously there has to be a solid agreement from all 3 levels of government that any federal funds flowing directly to cities will be ear-marked for specific projects. One example of flawed government spending is our beloved Goods and Services Tax (GST). From what I recall, the money was supposed to be used to pay down government debt. And yet, it has simply gone into federal coffers just like another form of income. Granted the budget is balanced and debt is decreasing, but probably not by the same amount of GST generated in the same time period.
The federal government can make any number of income streams, or percentages therof, available to the cities, except that the funds would have be given first to the provinces. If the funds simply become an income source for the province, then they can simply be used for provincial programs. The provinces, of course, can then claim that the programs are targeted to benefit cities, whether they do or don’t. Now it comes back to the mayors to wheedle the money from the provinces, instead of from the federal government.
Without a Constitutional amendment to allow for the flow of funds from the federal government directly to the cities, the problem will not be solved. I don’t want to go getting into the discussion of Meech Lake and Charlottetown, nor into the 1995 Québec Referendum (which resulted in our present Liberal spending scandal), but these are important issues. Obviously the Canada Act of 1867 (originally the British North America Act) didn’t cover everything the country needed, nor did the Canada Act of 1982 (Québec not having ratified either one). And now we find that there is even more they need to cover. Canada’s transformation from a primarily rural society to a mostly urban society1 has changed the needs of the population. For the better, in some cases: more people can be closer to hospitals, which can in turn be closer to universities, creating better-trained doctors with more resources. For the worse in others: urban municipalities must manage a significant network of roads and transportation systems relying solely on property taxes.
To conclude, all three levels of government absolutely need to put in place policies that allow a reasonably direct flow of federal funds to municipalities. This should be a priority for all three levels of government, and public opinion should reflect that. I believe it is important for Canadians to voice their opinions on this matter.
In closing, I will post an excerpt from “Enough of Not Enough” (RealTorontoSolutions.ca). I urge everyone to write their MPP/MLA and MP to press governments to support municipalities.
“Every year Toronto pays $9 billion more in taxes than it receives in services. Yet, our roads are packed, our transit system is stalled, people are searching further from the city to access affordable housing and our waterfront remains an untapped opportunity.
If Toronto is to continue to generate funds that are critical to the strength and vitality of our province and nation — then Toronto needs support.
Toronto can’t keep contributing without action by the provincial and federal governments. Instead of building for the future, the city is falling further behind.
Toronto needs a real solution. It needs additional, adequate and predictable investment to ensure its competitiveness and vibrancy.
Say Enough of Not Enough. Urge your MP and MPP to take action for Toronto now.”
1In 2001, 79.4% of Canada’s 30,007,094 residents lived in urban areas, compared to 19.6% of 3,689,257 in 1871.
Note that the definition of “urban” necessarily changed over this time period.