As the federal election campaign rolls forward, we see the parties shaping their platforms around commitments to improve Canadians’ quality of life. As they do, local governments are sending them a clear message: if you want to build better lives for Canadians, you will need to empower their local leaders.
Among governments , we’re closest to people’s daily challenges. Our mayors, reeves, councillors and workers are on the front lines, driving solutions that make peoples’ lives better. Whether it’s supporting housing options that families can afford, cutting commute times with modern transit, or protecting people from new weather extremes.
And we’re doing it with largely outdated funding tools: nobody’s building tomorrow’s communities with property taxes alone. That’s why our federal-municipal partnership is so critical—and recent federal investments in local communities are making a real difference. Fundamentally, however, to get more done for Canadians, we’ll need to modernize how governments work together. That includes modernizing the municipal toolbox itself.
On day two of the federal campaign, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) released Building Better Lives, our recommendations to all parties. It’s a call to action to improve Canadians’ quality of life by empowering the governments closest to their daily challenges. Our cornerstone recommendation is to permanently double the federal Gas Tax Fund (GTF) transfer to communities of all sizes—and boost its annual growth index to keep pace with construction costs.
Last year, the GTF distributed around $2.2 billion to fund thousands of local projects to repair and upgrade everything from local roads and bridges to water, waste and transit systems. This is the core infrastructure that supports Canada’s economy and quality of life. Municipalities are responsible for nearly 60 percent of it. And the GTF provides direct, reliable funding for its ongoing renewal. Direct and reliable: that’s important. When local leaders know what funds are coming, we can plan smart and long-term. When funds flow to us directly, it recognizes that we’re best placed to identify local needs and cost-effective solutions.
Our challenge here is scale. The GTF accounts for only two percent of municipal revenues, yet the list of projects that need funding continues to grow. Every year, countless projects that could be enhancing residents’ quality of life are left at the gate, unfunded. The federal government just recognized this fact in Budget 2019—with a one-time doubling of this year’s GTF transfer to move more projects forward. And that’s exactly what’s happening in cities and communities across the country—this construction season.
If doubling the GTF transfer makes sense this year, then it makes sense for next year and beyond. Municipalities nationwide have projects ready to go and we’re ready to partner with the next federal government to raise people’s quality of life in very concrete ways.
All the parties should be able to agree this tool is worth building on. In fact, FCM engaged governments of various stripes to launch the GTF (2005), make it permanent (2011), and index it for two percent annual growth (2014). Canadians also strongly agree. In a recent Abacus Data poll, a clear majority said that when it comes to assessing local needs and solutions, they trust their local leaders the most. A whopping 84 percent said the federal government should empower municipalities with permanent new funding tools to get the job done.
Over the last four years, Canada’s federal-municipal partnership has made tremendous progress. This election is a critical time to build on that. Permanently doubling the GTF transfer to municipalities is one of the most effective and efficient steps the next federal government can take to build better lives for Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
BILL KARSTEN, FCM President, is a councillor for the Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia. He was first elected to council in 2004 and has since been re-elected three times. In 2016, Bill brought his commitment to community-building to the national stage and served as FCM Third Vice-President for three years before becoming President in June 2019. Before entering municipal politics, he enjoyed a 30-year business career in sales, marketing and management. Bill has dedicated his public life to ensuring our communities are left stronger for future generations—with modern infrastructure, a cleaner environment and the right fiscal tools to achieve more