What Do Our Cities Need to Lead the Recovery?

Joining CUI host Mary W. Rowe for our ongoing series of candid conversations – What do our cities need to lead the recovery? – are Don Iveson, Mayor of the City of Edmonton, AB and Chair of the Big City Mayors’ Caucus; and Carole Saab, CEO, Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Municipal deficits are structural, not cyclical

Canada needs to address the long-standing fiscal issues faced by municipalities; a situation that has left Canadian cities vulnerable during COVID-19. Cities across Canada are in deep fiscal trouble with their efforts to respond to the pandemic. As an example, the City of Toronto is losing approximately $65 million each week and recovering this loss in revenue would require a 56% hike in property taxes.

2. Cities are operating with both hands tied behind their backs

The lack of constitutionally appointed powers for Canadian municipalities has obstructed their capacity to deliver services in the best of times. In the context of COVID-19, municipalities are now being called upon to provide many of the additional services to help residents weather the storm. Mayor Don Iveson argued that cities are essentially operating with both hands tied behind their backs as they work to respond to the current crisis.

3. Defund the provinces and empower municipalities

Residents already expect local government to deliver many vital social services, such as housing and mental health supports. In many cases, municipalities are also going out of their jurisdiction to drive action on pressing urban issues. To meet align with these realities and resident expectations, Mayor Don Iveson called for the defunding of provincial governments and reallocating resources—and some responsibilities—to the local level.

4. There will be no economic recovery without cities

As the provinces turn their sights to reopening plans, Carole Saab reminded us that cities are at the heart of Canada’s national economic recovery. Municipalities must have a more robust revenue toolkit and greater autonomy at their disposal.

5. COVID presents an opportunity for greater collaboration

Carole Saab argued that COVID has presented the federal and provincial governments with an opportunity for deeper collaboration with municipal governments. With municipal governments at the table, Canada can develop solutions that are localized and place-based, and national in scope.