I'm about to sum up an entire year only 5 days into that year, "If Municipalities lose, Well then Canada loses."
Times are undoubtedly tough, with a growing number of Canadians grappling with financial insecurities. Families find themselves scrutinizing their budgets, attempting to make ends meet in the wake of uncertainties.
The display of family household budgets in January mirrors the struggles municipalities face as they approach the end of their fiscal road. While meticulous work has gone into crafting budgets, municipalities find themselves at a crossroads.
Provinces and Territories seem reluctant to collaborate, as evidenced by the strained relationships witnessed in 2023. The federal government's tepid efforts, marked by a brief stop at the FCM conference in Toronto, and meeting with FCM during advocacy days in Ottawa - underscore the challenging position municipalities find themselves in.
Entering 2024, municipalities are left to navigate a world where they feel abandoned. One critical questions looms large this year for municipalities: How can municipalities make the largest impact without inadvertently hurting the very people we are meant to serve?
The answer remain elusive, and conversations with municipal leaders reveal a somber outlook for the year ahead. In 2024, municipalities will turn to residents, seeking a tax increase as a solution. However, this is not sustainable in the long run - as more Canadians struggle and you can't continue to ask people to give more when they dont have more to give.
Canada finds itself at a crossroads, and municipalities stand at the intersection with the Canadian populace. While provincial and federal governments engage in internal disputes, municipalities are left to grapple with issues far beyond their immediate control. The housing crisis, a pressing concern in the latter half of 2023, continues to worsen. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has called on the other two levels of government to address this issue, but, as of now, that call remains unanswered.
Another pressing concern for municipalities revolves around health and mental health. In the aftermath of COVID-19, the harsh reality of a global pandemic has laid bare the increased suffering and the growing need for help within communities. However, is health and mental health truly a municipal issue? A significant portion of municipal leaders, as revealed in Cross Border Interviews, recognizes it as a federal and provincial responsibility. Yet, municipalities find themselves shouldering the burden, allocating resources—read money—where higher levels of government should be taking the lead.
Downloading responsibilities from other levels of government to municipalities is an unspoken reality that permeates the landscape. While working in Ontario, I heard the following comment uttered by a provincial politician once, "Provinces don't download onto Municipalities; we just give municipalities the resources to deal with it themselves."
This serves as a stark reminder of the power dynamics at play. Municipalities, once overlooked, now have to budget for issues that were not on their radar a mere 25 or even 10 years ago.
The analogy of a familial hierarchy can help paint a vivid picture of the challenges municipalities face. The federal government, as the oldest child, assigns responsibilities to provinces and territories—the middle child. Unwilling to tackle these responsibilities, that same middle child passes them down to municipalities—the youngest child. In this familial dynamic, municipalities find themselves last in line, burdened with the most significant issues cascading down from one level of government to another.
Now in 2024, municipalities must navigate a landscape where two siblings, the federal and provincial governments, are at loggerheads. These siblings want to take credit for the accomplishments facing the third sibling—the municipalities. Municipalities are tasked with working collaboratively with conflicting interests for the betterment of their communities.
The reality is stark: municipalities can no longer operate in isolation. Urgent collaboration is needed between the federal and provincial governments to address the pressing issues at hand. Waiting is no longer an option, as municipalities—unsung heroes of governance—navigate a landscape where they are left to fend for themselves.
Now the next 12 months, significant changes await Canadian municipalities. They will grapple with challenges beyond their jurisdiction, striving to ensure the services they provide offer the best value for the community. The year unfolds as a critical chapter where the stakes are high.
Because in the end if municipalities lose, Canada loses. But if the Canadian Family work together for the common Canadian goal, well then Canada truly wins.