New fiscal deal needed for cities to thrive

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Dan Lett’s article, Canadian cities in ‘ridiculous’ predicament (June 4), reflects on the dilemma of a broken fiscal relationship between municipalities and the provincial and federal governments that saddle municipal rate-payers with taxation inequity — relegating all Canadian cities to further deterioration and hampering their ability to progress and prosper.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/06/2016 (2310 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dan Lett’s article, Canadian cities in ‘ridiculous’ predicament (June 4), reflects on the dilemma of a broken fiscal relationship between municipalities and the provincial and federal governments that saddle municipal rate-payers with taxation inequity — relegating all Canadian cities to further deterioration and hampering their ability to progress and prosper.

Sadly, the issue raised is not new, but rather, it is, and remains, the elephant in the Canadian fiscal-balance room.

The Manitoba Heavy Construction Association has been advocating for years for a new deal for municipalities, recognizing the fiscal arrangements between cities — the creatures of provincial legislation — and the provinces were struck at the turn of the century and left substantially unchanged. For decades, these arrangements have not serviced municipalities nor their citizens’ needs and therefore do not work.

Glen Murray, in his role as mayor of Winnipeg (1998-2004), had probably the best opportunity to usher in a “new deal” but abruptly abandoned municipal politics and, in doing so, left the work unfinished.

The next iteration of the issue resurfaced with the release in May 2011 of the Infrastructure Funding Council (IFC) report titled: New Relationships: A New Order — A balanced approach to funding municipal infrastructure in Manitoba.

The IFC was mandated by then-Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz and the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) with the challenging and complex task of developing recommendations underpinning a comprehensive funding strategy to address Manitoba’s growing municipal infrastructure deficit. It included internal funding options controlled by the municipalities and external funding options requiring intergovernmental negotiation.

Its most important recommendation urged the creation of a task force charged with the responsibility of revisiting the fiscal relationship between Manitoba and its municipalities. That review was couched in an appreciation the context of discussions cannot ignore the role of the federal government, which has the greatest access to revenues and a responsibility to participate in a leveraged leadership role.

Unfortunately, city council failed to seize the moment and Winnipeg, like every other municipality in Canada, labours with access to revenue streams that are inadequate and regressive — a point that Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman understand.

Now is the time to press for a political commitment to review this relationship. Interestingly, six major business organizations advocated for the imperatives of a new fiscal deal as one of seven policy pillars upon which to grow the economy. They championed this view during the recent Manitoba election.

Manitoba’s municipal and provincial government shouldn’t be fearful of engaging with the public on this issue and allow for feedback so a collective agreement can be drawn on what to do to resolve underfunding that effects infrastructure projects in our cities.

This is far too serious an issue to be ignored — and yet, it has been.

We urge our political leaders to rise to the challenge, and from it create an opportunity.

Chris Lorenc is president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association and Western Canada Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association.

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