For Immediate Release
November 19th, 2015
21st Century Will Belong and Be Shaped by Cities: Mayor Crombie
The following is a keynote address by Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie delivered during the 2020 Conference held in Ottawa.
“Good afternoon and thank for joining me today.
“I am only one year into the job as Mayor of Mississauga, so being invited to speak here today is a great honour.
“I am humbled to share the stage with such distinguished speakers and guests.
“It’s truly a sign of the times that a Mayor has been given this podium from which to discuss the importance and future of cities.
“I’m pleased to be with you here today to give this talk and begin a discussion about the role of our cities in building our country.
“Because I fundamentally believe that the 21st Century in Canada will belong to and will be shaped by cities.
“Over 80 per cent of our country lives in a city…our issues are national in scope and our reach is broad.
“Mayors and cities feel the full impact of every decision made at the federal and provincial levels and more than any other level of government, cities are closest to the people.
“We deliver the bulk of the services upon which Canadians rely and we are often the first point of contact when residents have an issue.
“I see plenty of you nodding.
“Cities are the lifeblood of Canada and as such, we can measure the health of our country by measuring the health of our cities.
“To move Canada forward, we must invest in cities and reimagine the relationship between our municipalities and other levels of government.
“That’s what I’m here to talk about today.
“The working title of this portion of the conference is “Rebuilding Cities and Infrastructure”.
“We could also entitle it, “Investing in cities to build a stronger Canada” or “Canada’s Cities; Canada’s Future”
“But I digress.
“Increasingly, issues facing cities have become national in scope – no longer do we just look after garbage pick-up, water and sewer services, or snow ploughing…
“Were it only that simple.
“No, we are forced to address myriad issues, including: the shortage of quality public transit; access to affordable housing; crumbling infrastructure; the delivery of many social programs downloaded over many years by many governments; generating economic development opportunities and growth; stick-handling immigration issues and the impact of hundreds of thousands of new Canadians annually; and climate change – let’s not forget climate change!
“These are but a few of the issues we face that fall beyond those traditionally addressed by municipal governments, but there are many more.
“It seems that every day I am asked to comment on subjects that are far beyond the traditional purview of a Mayor, but are increasingly becoming my responsibility.
“Cities are quickly becoming the cultural and economic centres of our country.
“Our municipal leaders are more than just property tax collectors.
“We are regional collaborators finding creative solutions to our collective problems.
“We work together to find solutions and we drive our agenda from the ground up.
“For instance, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Mayors of Toronto, Milton, Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo on a regional rapid transit project that we’ve called the “Missing Link.”
“We initiated a business case study to build a new rail route that will connect the CP Line, just west of Milton, with the already existing CN Line that runs through Brampton.
“Our goal is to facilitate regional express rail in line with the Ontario government’s plan.
“This project would do just that and would revolutionize how we move people and goods in the Greater Toronto Area and across Canada.
“It’s a project that is national in scale and far beyond the scope of one municipality alone.
“At the same time, it is a workable solution to the problems of commuter and freight rail congestion in the Greater Toronto Area.
“It took Mayors coming together to put this on the agenda and I’m pleased to say we are making headway at the provincial and federal levels.
“I see Minister Sohi is speaking tomorrow and we will be speaking with him about this exciting project soon.
“When the Syrian refugee crisis reached its zenith in August, it was the municipal leaders across this country that took action.
“Through the Big City Mayor’s Caucus of the FCM, we set up a Taskforce on Refugee Resettlement, led fundraising efforts, and brought our communities together to address the growing crisis.
“When Prime Minister Trudeau makes good on his commitment to settle 25,000 new Syrian immigrants in Canada by the end of the year – a pledge we should all applaud him for because it is simply what Canada should be doing – it will be Canada’s cities that feel the immediate impact and will rise to help through our social services and settlement programs.
“This is a substantial undertaking, and it will require the efforts of all levels of government, and external stakeholder groups, to properly deliver on.
“We need to be ready to do our part.
“The compassionate thing to do is to have a plan. And this is what I am working toward with my Council colleagues.
“The events of last week in Paris and Beirut will not weaken our resolve.
“When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report earlier this year, it was the Mayor of Edmonton, Don Iveson who provided the most thoughtful and eloquent response, bringing his community together to heal.
“And, Gregor Robertson in Vancouver recently announced what’s being called a “game-changing” initiative that leverages a $76-million private investment from non-profits and the granting of $22 million in city land to create over 350 new rental housing units, many at or below the market rate.
“As Mayor he is taking affordable housing into his own hands.
“These are just four examples of many I could give that demonstrate the new role cities and mayors across this country are playing.
“The issues we face are certainly not within our traditional bailiwick but stand as examples of how the issues faced by cities are myriad, national in scope, and growing in complexity.
“Yet, despite this progress and new found stature and increased responsibility, cities still remain just “creatures of the provinces.”
“We do not exist in the Constitution
“Think about that: over 80 per cent of the country is governed by a level of government that is not included in our country’s Constitution.
“We are trying to build a 21st century country using a 19th century framework.
“While municipal leaders are agile and nimble, there are some impediments we just cannot overcome.
“If cities are expected to do more, we need to be armed with more powers and a strengthened position in the national discourse.
“We must also stop referring to the federal and provincial governments as senior levels of government.
“This language suggests a power imbalance between the levels of government, which I would argue is counter-productive to making the investments we need.
“It’s time for a rethinking of the role of cities and recognition that we are critical to the success of this country.
“It’s time for a new relationship.
“Please do not mistake what I’m saying.
“I do not want it written that Bonnie Crombie is calling for a Constitutional amendment.
“I’m not sure there’s an appetite anywhere to do that at the moment.
“Rather, to rebuild our cities and our infrastructure we need to reimagine the role of cities and the relationship between the federal, provincial and municipal governments.
“And, I would contend that following the results of the federal election, there is no better time to do this.
“Two weeks ago Prime Minister Trudeau announced his Cabinet.
“It is comprised of a group of highly skilled and distinguished Canadians and has been lauded for its balance and diversity.
“As the Prime Minister begins the task of moving Canada forward, he will rely on these 30 individuals for their guidance, support and hard work.
“I would suggest though that this is not the only Cabinet upon which the Prime Minister can rely.
“He also has the ear of the Mayors of Canada’s 21 Big Cities and the over 5,600 leaders of municipal governments across this country
“From Gregor Robertson in Vancouver, to Naheed Nenshi in Calgary; Don Iveson in Edmonton, Brian Bowman in Winnipeg and John Tory in Toronto; to Jim Watson in Ottawa, Denis Coderre in Montreal; and Mike Savage in Halifax; the Prime Minister has a wealth of knowledge and experience upon which to draw.
“These ‘rock stars’ of the municipal world are actively shaping the direction of their country through the policies and direction they set at the local level.
“To me it is essential that Canada’s Mayors are at the table at the national level where the decisions about the future of our country are being made.
“To his credit, Prime Minister Trudeau has signalled he understands this and has committed to a new relationship with Canada’s cities.
“During the federal election campaign, municipal leaders were vocal and united in our desire to see the federal government work with cities to build a better Canada.
“The Federation of Canadian Municipalities drove a strong cities agenda, led in large part by the Big City Mayors – of which I am proud to be a member – that forced every political party to “race to the top” in terms of their commitments to infrastructure, transit and affordable housing, among other priorities.
“Our campaign began over a year ago and we worked tirelessly to put City issues on the national agenda.
“Thanks to this strong team of mayors, led by Gregor Robertson, and the dedication and hard work of the FCM team, I dare say we were successful.
“We heard the words “infrastructure,” “transit,” “affordable housing,” and “cities” more during this campaign than during any previous campaign.
“Never before in a federal election have the issues of cities been so prevalent.
“Of course, this may have to do with the fact that the Canadian public routinely lists the issues facing our cities as those that are most important to them.
“Bruce Anderson of Abacus Data presented polling research at the FCM conference in June that showed unequivocally that the issues Canadians rated most important were those being championed by cities: affordable housing; transit and transportation; and infrastructure.
“Bruce demonstrated – and some of the parties listened – that the parties who spoke to these issues would reach the most receptive audience.
“People want to have a roof over their head they can afford; be able to move quickly; and have properly functioning and well-maintained infrastructure to enjoy a high quality of life.
“As the always eloquent Mayor Naheed Nenshi recently said in the National Post, “the issues facing our cities are truly Canadian issues.”
“And, who can argue with the World’s Greatest Mayor?
“I was asked to talk today about rebuilding our cities and our infrastructure
“Our first step is to develop an equitable partnership between the three levels of government and the people of Canada that sees a new relationship that quite frankly cuts out the inter-jurisdictional wrangling and delivers funding and resources to where they are most needed.
“Progressive politicians are now leading our major cities, our provinces, and our national government.
“This means we have an incredible opportunity to work together to make the critical investments that will build our country up – investments that have been delayed for far too many years.
“The stars do not align that often, but when they do, we better be ready to act.
“If we do not work together, we will continue to fall behind.
“So, how do we “rebuild our cities and infrastructure?”
“Well, it is important that we first define what investments are most needed and shift our approach from “this is the way we’ve always done it,” to “what do we need to do to grow and prosper?”
“We must shift our decision making paradigm and our thinking.
“If cities are the heart of our country, it only makes sense that we re-evaluate how we are building them.
“This means it is essential that we get the fundamentals right.
“To build a house, you first need to pour a strong foundation.
“For Canada’s cities, this foundation includes: providing access to safe and affordable housing; efficient and effective transit; quality employment opportunities that lead to good jobs, not precarious employment; and, animated community spaces that improve both the health and quality of life of our residents.
“Each of these elements is interconnected and if even one element is absent, the house will crumble.
“We know that if a person cannot find good quality housing, they will have difficulty finding a job and if they have to take 3 buses and commute for 2 hours, they will have difficulty keeping that job.
“Money by itself will not address these issues.
“Targeted funding, tied to discernable programs, developed in consultation with municipal partners will.
“This is why I’m pleased to see that the federal Liberal government has made some significant commitments in terms of investments in infrastructure – $125 billion over 10 years; and affordable housing – $20 billion over 10 years through a National Housing Strategy.
“We need the federal government to establish a national transit strategy to improve the global competitiveness, quality of life and environmental sustainability of Canada’s cities.
“Provincial governments are making similar commitments. I’m proud of Premier Wynne for committing to $130 billion over 10 years to make the investments that will stimulate growth in Ontario.
“My City of Mississauga is benefitting from this unprecedented investment through a fully-funded LRT on Hurontario Street that will form the spine of a regionally-integrated transit network that includes Bus Rapid Transit, and Regional Express Rail.
“This system will connect Mississauga to the wider GTA and allow our residents to move quickly, freely and seamlessly.
“Had the provincial government not provided this funding, we would have been hard-pressed to raise the necessary capital to build the LRT.
“Municipalities need certainty in terms of funding. The property tax alone will simply not cut it any longer.
“It is a regressive tax that is simply not equipped to build the 21st century infrastructure we so desperately need.
“Cities are responsible for over 65 per cent of all infrastructure in Canada, but receive only 10 cents of every tax dollar collected.
“With a national infrastructure deficit climbing in excess of $100 billion – and growing annually – this is a burden we just cannot bear.
“Increasing our share of the gas tax; providing long-term, predictable funding; reviewing new revenue tools like providing municipalities with greater powers, and looking at giving cities a percentage share of the income tax are some immediate steps that will lead to investments now.
“With respect to the income tax if cities are the economic engine of this country, it only follows that we are able to recoup a share of the income generated through our economic development activities.
“We must take the politics out of decision-making.
“If mayors and cities are forced to jump through hoops to secure funding, we will get tired pretty quickly. We’ve been doing this for far too long.
“The funding amounts that have been committed are astronomical, which is why it is understandable that most people have difficulty fully comprehending for instance, what $130 billion looks like.
“What is interesting is that in poll after poll, people routinely say that they want more investments in the types of infrastructure I just spoke about.
“When we discuss how to raise the funds, the discussion immediately dives into a simplistic discussion of tax hikes.
“We continually frame the long term projects of city and nation building in terms of short term tax increases.
“Ad hoc funding contingent on a four-year election cycle is not conducive to building a 25 year transit plan, for example.
“A longer term plan and strategy are needed. We must first identify the problem, consult with the experts, such as our municipal leaders, develop a plan, and then commit fully to implementing it.
“As Mayor, it is my job to put my city on the path to prosperity for generations to come, not just to win election every 4 years – although I’d still like to do that!
“Cities have to balance our budgets, but if year over year funding is not predictable, it severely hampers our ability to plan for our future, and deliver for our residents.
“This is why we are playing catch-up right now.
“It’s time for a change.
“At the outset I discussed the need for a greater partnership between the federal, provincial and municipal governments.
“As in any partnership, there must be support.
“It is incumbent upon us in decision-making roles to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who would make the bold investments and hard choices.
“Before it was removed, the prayer that was said before each Region of Peel Council meeting had a line that read, “save us from the parochialism that divides us.”
“If we work at different objectives and only to our own parochial ends, we will not succeed.
“I support John Tory in his efforts to build regionally-integrated transit, just as he does me. I know the same is true of other Mayors across Canada.
“I will also stand behind Premier Wynne and Prime Minister Trudeau as they roll out their multi-billion dollar funding commitments and I will be there with them when they make bold choices to raise these necessary funds.
“Leading is not easy. To ensure we continue to encourage and elect those leaders who are willing to make the tough choices to move us forward, we need to support those that are doing so today.
“We will never cut our way to prosperity.
“The only way to achieve our goals is to make a plan and stick to it.
“If you give your municipal leaders the tools, we will get the job done.
“Having been a federal MP, I bring a different perspective to my new role as Mayor of Canada’s sixth largest city.
“I see how critical it is that the federal government partner with cities to achieve the change we are all seeking.
“I have had the pleasure of speaking to you today, but you could interchange me with almost any Mayor across this country and I believe the message would be the same.
“We are speaking with a collective voice and delivering a strong message, supported by the people we all represent.
“I have confidence that the new federal government will change the approach to cities and I am even more confident that over the next few years we will begin to fundamentally reshape Canada and make investments whose effects will be seen by generations to come.
“It’s time that we have this conversation.
“Because, it’s 2015.”