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Leveling the political playing field

Oshawa councillors "encouraged" by federal commitment to municipalities shared at Federation of Canadian municipalities conference

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

A pair of Oshawa councillors returned from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference in Winnipeg with some good news for the city.

This year saw FCM passing several resolutions calling on the federal government to increase funding to the Homelessness Partnering Strategy as more communities become involved, to declare Sept 30 as National Orange Shirt Day in honour of residential school survivors, and to work with the provinces and territories to implement a national pharmacare program.

The conference also included hundreds of workshops surrounding municipal relations and policy, and saw Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in attendance to provide a keynote speech.

And while Councillors Dan Carter and Bob Chapman were in attendance for all of this and were exposed to a multitude of workshops surrounding municipal governance, policy and partnerships, it was the tone of the conference that hit them both the hardest.

In a nutshell, the federal government wants to hear from municipalities, and they want to help.

In particular, some off-the-cuff discussions with parliamentary secretary and former Toronto councillor Adam Vaughn left both Oshawa councillors with high hopes.

“It was very encouraging to hear there was a recognition that municipal government and municipal partners play a significant role,” Carter says, adding the feds under Trudeau have initiated a serious “cultural change” in the way the top-tier government interacts with the provincial and municipal levels.

The shift comes in the form of moving the province and MPPs out from between the federal government and municipalities, creating a more level playing field where municipalities have more say in what funding and what projects are approved. This will help ensure funding goes directly towards the city’s top priorities.

“What I got out of it was a cultural change and how the federal government was truly going to be a partner in the municipalities,” Carter says.

“I think (Trudeau) has got this moment right now where he’s got a lot of equity that he can use and he can actually use it against the province and say, ‘if you guys aren’t on board, that’s fine, because the rest of Canada supports me.’”

For Chapman, the shifting landscape is merely a recognition of the role municipalities have been playing for years.

“They understand the face of the community and what municipal politicians have to go through and what the challenges are, especially financially, to just do these everyday things that are needed,” he says.

And while the words were encouraging, there were still questions about when that relationships would start to reap dividends. Specifically, a massive chunk of infrastructure dollars (approximately $125 billion over 10 years) the feds promised at budget time that have yet to come to fruition for municipalities, some of which are drooling at the prospect of extra cash for aging roads and bridges.

Under a new proposed funding model, the federal government could start funding 50 per cent of projects.

“This is all great stuff, (but) when is the money going to start coming?” Chapman asks. And it was a question he posed at FCM, and the response was not very encouraging.

“Soon,” Chapman shares. “The devil is in the details and that’s what they’re working on.”