Time to fix the funding

If cities are expected to carry more of the off-loaded responsibilities, they should have more options to pay for them.

Municipal politicians from across the country flooded into Vancouver over the weekend.

They were there for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ annual convention.

And while their backgrounds were as diverse as the communities they represented, their message was strikingly similar: Fix the funding.

It’s not a new complaint. For decades Canada’s cities have been telling Ottawa that they need more money if they are to do the things they are increasingly expected to do.

The complaints began in the 1990s, when the federal government began to cut funding as it dealt with a ballooning deficit and public debt. As transfer payments to provincial governments shrank, so too did many of the services the federal government traditionally provided (like low cost housing).

Provincial governments tried to take up the slack, but inevitably the cuts continued to trickle down to municipalities.

Today, cities like Chilliwack are faced with providing a level of service they never did in the past, particularly in the realm of social services, transportation, and protective service like policing.

They’ve done this because they’ve had little choice; there is no one left to download the cuts to.

Instead, they must find new revenue from a taxpayer pool that is shallow and offers little flexibility. Deferring expenses is an option. But as roads and bridges deteriorate, it leads to an “infrastructure deficit” that must eventually be paid off.

That’s left municipalities calling for a change in the way cities are funded.

According to a report released at the convention, the current relationship between municipal and federal levels of government is “dysfunctional.”

It cites the fact that despite their evolving and expanding responsibilities, municipalities only receive eight cents of every tax dollar raised.

There were promises of new money at the convention, but that’s not enough.

What is needed is a change in the way the funding flows. Canada’s cities have grown up. It is time governments stop treating them like children who are incapable of spending their allowance responsibly.