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The need for a discussion about our cities


Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was on The House this weekend to elaborate on his vision for a “muscular, urban agenda.” Nenshi said he is eager to keep talking about long-term, stable funding for cities. “Here’s my fantasy,” he said. “We’ll have a federal election some day. … And if in part of that election, we could actually have a debate — have a discussion — around the various parties and their agendas as they relate to municipalities and cities across this country, that would be amazing.”

About 80% of Canada’s population live in its cities. So why are policies at the federal level so slanted toward rural areas? Witness the “debate” over the Gun Registry, for example. Nothing but a clear attempt at pandering to rural voters.

Even the HoC seat distribution tilts toward non-urban areas. If there were to be proper re-distribution of seats to Ontario, Alberta and B.C (like Bill C – 12 proposed), most of the new seats would be in and around urban communities. And this would go some way in correcting the imbalance.

But what Mayor Nenshi wants is more than just a few more seats for our cities. He wants a real and non-partisan national discussion including all levels of government on

  • what needs to be done to avoid our cities from becoming like several American centers, like Detroit, for example.
  • who should pay for it
  • and what the timetable should be

“My message to the provincial and the federal governments — and to those hoping to form government — is it’s time to talk about cities,” he said.

Nenshi, who has often repeated his conviction that cities will drive Canada’s growth and prosperity, said it was time to allow those cities “the resources, the powers, and the authorities that they need in order to do the work that [they] must do every day.”

The current framework, Nenshi argued, is outdated, based on legislation that in Alberta’s case has remained largely unchanged since the province entered Confederation.

That framework has left cities with the burden of delivering a host of services, but their hands on the levers of only two sources of revenue: user fees and property taxes. The result, Nenshi says, is a fiscal imbalance that is crucially in need of repair.

Clearly this man is a visionary and his thoughts should be heeded. This country is in dire need of more leaders like Mr. Nenshi. Calgary is fortunate to have him! Let’s hope that other municipal leaders are listening and start to shape some of these ideas into policy proposals that can be presented to politicians at the provincial and federal levels.

Time for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to step up to the plate and use its considerable influence to shape change!

Hmmmm… I’m in Calgary on business next week. Maybe I should stop in and say hi to Mayor Nenshi…


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