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Canadian mayors look to Ottawa for new partnerships

Posted on 07 December 2017 by admin

Mayors of Canadian cities have won partnerships with Ottawa and provinces on housing and transit.

After big wins with Ottawa on transit and social housing funds, the mayors of Canada’s biggest cities want partnerships on mental health supports and fighting the opioid crisis.

Mayors John Tory of Toronto, Valérie Plante of Montreal and Gregor Robertson of Vancouver hopped off a new Toronto streetcar early Thursday to talk with reporters and look at the King St. transit-prioritizing pilot project.

The trio then strolled to the Front St. convention centre for a full day of closed-door meetings with 19 other mayors from across Canada.

Their Federation of Canadian Municipalities caucus has gained clout in recent years, amid international recognition of urbanization and the Trudeau government’s commitment to long-term partnerships with cities rather than the one-off federal pledges of the past.

“We’ve made huge progress in recent years, particularly thanks to the new federal government – the Trudeau government have been stronger partners on transit, on housing specifically,” Robertson said. “We’ve come to the table with resources too.”

But while they work to get money flowing on those two priorities, cities are looking for other challenges they can tackle with Ottawa and their respective provinces.

Tory said he asked that mental health be added to the mayors’ agenda because the issue affects all cities and encompasses homelessness and the need to operate shelters, substance abuse, policing and public health. “We need a partnership” with senior governments, he said.

The federal government also needs to co-ordinate a “pan-Canadian response,” to the overdose crisis, added Robertson, whose city is Ground Zero for Canada’s opioid epidemic.

In an interview after several of meetings, Robertson elaborated on the need.

“Public health questions loom large because vulnerable populations cluster in our cities because that’s where our services are,” he said.

“But without real, functional partnerships with the provinces and the feds, we’re on the receiving ends of those challenges. So we’re talking about ‘How do we position cities as partners for the next round of breakthroughs beyond housing and transit?’”

The mayors also debated how to make cities more financially self-sufficient, and less reliant on property taxes, so they don’t have to lean heavily on other governments, Robertson added.

Options include lobbying for a share of income or sales taxes, which grow with the economy and reward cities for innovation, he said, “but there isn’t a consensus for one tool that would work for all of the 22 mayors around the table.”

The Montreal mayor, elected earlier this month in an upset win over incumbent Denis Coderre, said she was eager to meet her mayoral colleagues and learn from them.

Elected on a pro-transit platform, Plante was enthusiastic about her ride on a Toronto streetcar.

“I’m pleased I was able to get in a streetcar just to see what are some of the solutions we can put together, because mobility is the key to social and economic developments in our city…” Plante said. “It’s fast. It’s comfortable.”

An aide to Plante, however, said her transit priority is a campaign promise to build a 21-kilometre extension of the city’s subway system.

 

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