The Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) Big City Mayors’ Caucus (BCMC) met to discuss the most pressing challenges facing Canada’s largest cities, including the national homelessness and mental health crises and the need for a modern municipal growth framework to empower solutions to the pressures of a growing population.

The BCMC convened in Toronto, Ontario at the outset of FCM’s Annual Conference & Trade Show – Canada’s largest annual cross-country gathering of municipal elected officials. Hosting the spring meeting in Canada’s largest city reinforced a clear focus on the innovation and solutions cities bring to Canada’s most pressing issues, as well as the restrictions by which cities are bound in trying to drive those solutions.

“The mayors of Canada’s largest cities have been crystal clear,” said mayor of Halifax and chair of the BCMC, Mike Savage, who spoke alongside Toronto Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante. “Large urban centers are where our nation’s most pressing challenges are seen and felt first, and while cities are leaders in addressing these challenges, the reality is that municipalities across the country are constrained by a fiscal framework that is not designed to empower local governments to drive local solutions at the scale needed in 2023 and beyond.”

Members of the caucus focused their conversations on the growing mental health crisis in Canada, which is worsened by a housing and homelessness challenge that was made more fragile by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While cities are presenting innovative solutions to the question of housing supply, public transit safety and more, BCMC members agreed that real cooperation between all orders of government is required next to drive sustainable progress. The caucus also welcomed Canada’s Minister for Housing, Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen to discuss the current national barriers to housing affordability and the latest developments in addressing chronic homelessness.

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“Our caucus thanks Minister Hussen for joining us today in Toronto,” said Mayor Savage. “We have consistently heard from the federal government that they wish to be partners in tackling critical issues such as housing and homelessness, and we look forward to municipalities being a part of a national strategy on how we can prepare for Canada’s future growth in a way that prioritizes safety, predictability, and the highest possible quality of life for all Canadians.”

During a press conference held after the meeting, the mayors were asked about the recent federal budget and how municipalities can work better with all levels of government.

Plante described the current relationship between municipalities and both levels of government a “broken system of fiscality” that requires a solution.

“We are looking for a vision, and we are looking for recognition that we are partners,” said Plante. “That’s what we do. We fix things, we find solutions, and we want a working partnership instead of begging.”

McKelvie, whose city is facing a significant budge shortfall, said Toronto’s finances have still not recovered the effects of the pandemic.

Using reserve funds to make up the difference is not a long-term solution, she said.

“It’s like taking out money from your RRSPs to pay for groceries.”

This meeting of the BCMC also saw Savage re-elected as caucus chair for another term of three years, and mayors Plante of Montreal and Charlie Clark of Saskatoon re-elected as vice-chairs of the caucus.

“I am honoured to be re-elected as chair of FCM’s Big City Mayors’ Caucus,” said Mayor Savage. “This caucus represents 23 big city governments that have critical responsibilities to millions of Canadians. The challenges facing Canada’s largest cities are very real, but so are the opportunities. Working together, we can ensure Canada’s cities remain the engines of our national economy and places that families and workers remain proud to call home.”

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Featured image: (John Tenpenny)

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