I had the opportunity to attend the 74th Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) annual conference in Halifax from June 3 to 6, 2011. This year’s conference focused on “Strong Cities – Strong Communities – Strong Canada”.
All political parties were invited to make presentations.
The Conservatives were represented by Denis Lebel, the minister responsible for infrastructure and transportation. As a former mayor from Quebec, he promised that he will do his best to legislate the gas tax currently at $2 billion. He was proud of the 28,000 infrastructure projects that generated 530,000 jobs. The infrastructure projects leveraged a total expenditure of $31 billion.
The Liberals were represented by Bob Rae who stressed his interim leadership role. His focus was on the challenges for Canada and his top issue was worldwide economic circumstances and the globalization issue when small countries like Greece affect the entire world. He was positive about the USA because of its resilience. The current infrastructure deficit is a major issue for Canada and we are not addressing it appropriately. The third issue was our fourth order of government “The Aboriginal Reserves” Housing – Suicide – Unemployment (50 per cent under 25).
Jack Layton was very upbeat about their new role in Ottawa. He predicted that communities will not be a priority with the Conservatives.
They will use local governments to help balance the books. He promised to fight for local government and the current $123 billion infrastructure deficit. He also supports increasing the current revenue stream of eight cents on the dollar for municipalities.
Resolutions that were supported include: climate change funding support for municipal governments, medical cannabis, policies of Canada Post re: mail outs, wastewater treatment funding, the right to adequate housing, infrastructure grant programs, wireless communications and improved transportation links.
I participated in one policy forum: “Environmental Issues and Sustainable Development.” The cost for meeting the new federal wastewater standards are estimated at $20 billion. Some modifications have been made which include a combined sewer outlet system that is estimated to save $30 million for cities.
Issues that continue to need further evaluation include sewage sludge and their application to land, brownfield material disposal, solar power blockage to power grids, building codes for green economy, education of the public, the modified crops issue and water export licensing to particularly the US.
This was a very interesting and educational session.
There is no question that we need a new, long term infrastructure investment strategy. The strategy needs to include a partnership of the four levels of government.
This is certainly the most important policy paper on the FCM agenda.
I also participated in the “City Development Tour” and discussion. The former City of Halifax is now a part of the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) established by the provincial government. It has a population of 400,000, a land mass larger than the province of P.E.I. and represents almost 50 per cent of the population in Nova Scotia.
The location of various facilities and the required financial support required was one of the major reasons it was established. They use a ward system with 24 elected politicians including the mayor.
Land issues such as zoning etc. are made in the individual areas by an appointed group similar to the APC for Area A and B. All financial issues are directed to the HRM.
Halifax is very rich in heritage buildings and this has created significant stress between the city and businesses or developers. They have an area known as the historic properties and additions or upgrades to these designated buildings can be very expensive for developers. They have done a fantastic job on the upgraded facilities we saw. The famous Pier 21 and the Cunard facility have specialty stores and a convention centre. Future plans are very ambitious and having the HRM financing ability will make it possible.
A second tour included the new Canada Games facility some 26 km from Halifax centre. This is a new facility that was opened for the Canada Games in February of this year. Even though it is in its honeymoon year, it has had to be supported by almost 50 per cent from taxation.
This centre includes all aspects of the TALC plus a fieldhouse with a running track and four basketball courts.
About 80,000 people live in this area but financial support is required by HRM.
The experience in Nova Scotia is that Aquatic Centres need about 75 per cent financial support from taxation and arenas about 25 to 35 per cent taxation support. What a beautiful facility with a price tag of $45 million. It has a $4.5 million operating expense and currently expects $3.5 million in revenue.
I participated in a very interesting seminar: “Corporate Sponsorship – Is It Really for You.” Many communities throughout Canada are currently taking advantage of corporate sponsorship for events or facilities. Many facilities are currently named after corporations such as Rexall Centre and Nova Scotia Centre in Fredricton. There have also been some problems and professional help could be useful.
Finally, I had the opportunity to participate in one of the signature events of the Yarmouth 250th anniversary. The present day passengers dressed in 17th century garb arrived in two longboats. It was very emotional. This gave me an opportunity to interact with a number of mayors.
Because of the American recession, their main income derived from lobster is at an all time low and many small communities are in deep financial trouble. One small community went into receivership and now has a provincial government administrator. Two more communities are on the verge of receivership.
Communities with facilities with outlying areas not contributing financially is one of the major problems. The provincial government is expected to continue their amalgamation drive as per Halifax.
The FCM was another incredible learning experience.
Dieter Bogs in the City of Trail Mayor