The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has one word for Canada’s mayors: priorities.
The Big City Mayors’ Caucus — made up of the mayors of 22 of Canada’s largest cities, including St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe — met in Ottawa on Wednesday, and emerged from their semi-annual meeting announcing that cities are being held back by housing costs and transportation gridlock.
Vancouver mayor and caucus chairman Gregor Robertson said, in a statement released Wednesday, “The national housing crunch and traffic gridlock are holding our cities back. We need to fix this because our future depends on keeping our cities strong.” The caucus decried the federal government’s withdrawal of $1.7 billion in social housing investments.
But Vaughn Hammond, director of the Newfoundland and Labrador branch of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said cities need to take better control of their spending.
“They need to be able to set priorities,” said Hammond. “Notwithstanding that they were claiming even last year that they were getting only eight cents from every taxpayer dollar, what we’ve shown is that they’re actually getting more than that. So they are getting more than what they say they get, so what it comes down is simply setting of priorities.”
The federation released a report earlier this week that suggests municipalities receive about 15 cents of every tax dollar when provincial and federal transfers and funding is factored in. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador fired back, with MNL calling the report “antagonistic” and “insulting,” and saying transfers from other levels of government aren’t predictable and are largely project-based. But Hammond disputes that.
“If you take the municipal operating grants, that grant is there every year for a long time,” he said. “The different municipalities may not know what it is they’re going to get for that year, but there’s a pot of money that’s there.”
The seven largest municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador know, though, how much they’re going to get: nothing.
Hammond acknowledged the provincial government has phased out the municipal operating grants for the province’s seven biggest communities, but said the loss of the grants is offset by increased capital funding.
Messages left requesting comment from O’Keefe on the caucus meeting were not returned.