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Mayors want feds' attention
June 13, 2015
By Jim Warren

Mayors from across Canada gathered in Edmonton last week to attend the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference.

They’re focusing on the upcoming federal election and trying to influence the campaign platforms of the major political parties.

They want the next prime minister of Canada - whoever that is - to spend more of your tax dollars on services delivered by your city.

Indeed, their own chances of re-election may well depend on it.

That’s because we live in a country with a “weak” mayor system. Unlike the U.S., our mayors have limited powers to make decisions.

The only real sources of municipal revenue they have are property taxes and limited user fees. Their main way to get things accomplished, or built, is through the power of public persuasion.

They need the media and positive press to convince the senior levels of government - federal and provincial - to give them the cash to help them get things done. The federal election provides one of the biggest opportunities for a media-savvy mayor to win power and influence.

New mayors John Tory from Toronto and Mississauga's Bonnie Crombie joined media pro Gregor Robertson from Vancouver and Calgary social media king Naheed Nenshi to lead the so-called “Big City Mayors.”

They are an impressive group of municipal politicians who have called for a federal election leaders’ debate on cities. The Greens, NDP and Liberals have all signed on. The Conservatives, as of yet, have not.

The three main issues the mayors have raised are affordable housing, transit and quality infrastructure, which they argue are the foundations of a good quality of life for their citizens.

Given that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided, so far, to duck out of attending the nationally televised debates, this new forum would provide an opportunity to discuss the issues that impact urban Canadians the most.

He should attend. Municipal priorities really do impact our lives.

Municipalities own and maintain the roads that take us to work and get us home in time to have dinner with our families. They’re also responsible for public transit, which does the same.

The lack of proper funding for both transit and roads puts a huge strain on our cities. It reflects a significant fiscal imbalance in this country, where your money doesn’t always go where it’s needed most, because Ottawa and the provinces control so much of it.

Meanwhile, municipalities only collect a small portion of every tax dollar you pay and can’t implement income taxes, unlike the senior levels of government.

The Big City Mayors are asking the federal government to become a partner with cities to make the critical investments in infrastructure they need because they cannot go it alone.

A prime example of this fiscal imbalance occurred at Toronto council last week and tested the ability of Mayor Tory to win a big vote on the council floor.

The city’s elevated Gardiner Expressway has been literally falling apart, with chunks of concrete falling down from the superstructure onto the road below it.

Council debated whether to tear down the eastern portion of the Gardiner - and flood the downtown core with more cars and trucks - or pay to have the expressway fixed and remain connected to another major road called the Don Valley Parkway.

Tory won a squeaker vote, 24-21, to have the highway repaired and keep the two major roadways connected. As someone elected to get the city moving again, Tory couldn’t afford to lose this vote.

After decades of fiscal neglect instead of properly funding infrastructure in our cities, our mayors are stepping up in the next federal campaign to get their fair share. Ultimately it’s out of self-interest - their own political lives depend on it.