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Municipalities of two minds regarding 2018 federal budget

Peter Caulfield
Municipalities of two minds regarding 2018 federal budget

Canadian municipalities had a mixed reaction to the 2018 federal budget.

On the one hand, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) said, in a post-budget announcement, that the budget “respond[s] to municipalities’ calls to urgently fund opioid treatment and to take steps toward ensuring they have financial tools to safely implement cannabis legalization in their communities.”

To help address the opioid crisis, the federal government proposes to spend $231.4 million over five years, starting in 2018–19.

The government’s multi-pronged attack calls for one-time “emergency funding” of $150 million to provinces and territories to improve access to evidence-based treatment services; a public education campaign “to address stigma that creates barriers for those seeking treatment”; improve access to public health data and analysis; provide detection and identification tools to border agents to intercept fentanyl and other substances at ports of entry; and expand the Substance Use and Addictions Program “to develop innovative approaches to treatment and prevention.”

According to public health officials, approximately 4,000 people died from opioid-related overdoses in Canada in 2017.

Federal excise duties on cannabis, when the substance becomes legalized in 2018, will be shared on a 75/25 basis, with 75 per cent of duties going to provincial and territorial governments and the remaining 25 per cent to the federal government.

The federal government says it expects that “a substantial portion” of the tax revenues to provinces and territories will be transferred to municipalities and local communities, “who are on the front lines of legalization.”

Brock Carlton, FCM chief executive officer, says the opioids treatment program will succeed or fail depending on how it rolls out.

“Municipalities are on the front lines,” said Carlton.

“They provide many services, such as police, ambulance and law enforcement, that become more in demand because of drug-related problems.”

But on the other hand, said the FCM, which represents 2,000 Canadian municipalities, “this budget missed a key opportunity to generate frontline outcomes by expediting repairs to Canada’s social housing supply to kick-start the National Housing Strategy.”

“Social housing in Canada is in need of repair, and the work can’t wait,” said Carlton. “There are 600,000 units of social housing in Canada that need work. The social housing stock in Toronto alone needs $1.6 billion over the next 10 years just to keep it liveable.”

Carlton says much of the social housing stock in Canada was built in the 1960s and 1970s and needs refurbishing now.

“Over the next 10 years, $615 million per year needs to be spent to get the stock of social housing up to where it should be,” he said. “Some social housing has been taken off the market because it’s fallen into such disrepair.

Drugs and social housing aren’t the only things on the minds of Canadian municipalities, especially in rural western Canada.

 

Rural Alberta municipalities need more and better broadband and Internet connection

— Al Kemmere

Rural Municipalities of Alberta

 

In Saskatchewan, about one-third of the population is rural, compared to an average 20 per cent for Canada as a whole, says Ray Orb, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM).

“Our big concern is infrastructure,” said Orb.

“We need good, basic high-speed Internet. Without it, our farmers are hurt, and it inhibits new business from moving in.”

Rural Saskatchewan also needs repairs to more traditional infrastructure — roads and bridges.

“Agricultural production is way up, which puts more heavy trucks on roads and bridges, which means they need more maintenance,” said Orb.

Next door in Alberta, rural municipalities are facing similar challenges.

“Rural Alberta municipalities need more and better broadband and Internet connection,” said Al Kemmere, president of the board of directors of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta.

It’s also a challenge for many rural municipalities to keep their roads and bridges in good repair.

“The municipalities do the work first and then they apply for the money,” said Kemmere.

“Sometimes it can take a year or even two years to complete a project, which puts a lot of pressure on their finances.”

The Canadian system of government can make it difficult for our municipalities to access sources of funding from senior levels of government — the federal and provincial governments — which like to keep a tight grip on the purse strings.

“If you compare Canada and the United States, Canada doesn’t have common political affiliations running from the federal down to the municipal level,” said Steeve Mongrain, professor of economics at Simon Fraser University.

“Unlike Canada, municipal elected officials in the U.S. are usually Democrats, Republicans or Independents, like federal and state elected officials. So it can be easier for them to influence upper-level policies.”

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