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E-BLAST: Every City Wins When We Work Together

Last weekend, Toronto played host to the Annual General Meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). It is a hugely important organization, even though many of you may not have heard of it. FCM has achieved some historic victories for cities across the nation at AGMs over the years. Its membership of 2100 municipalities represents 92% of the population of Canada. When this organization speaks, federal political parties listen. Party leaders tend to build platforms around official FCM requests and when they do, every city wins.

A photo of the first day of this year's FCM Annual General Meeting.

This was my first visit to FCM since 2017. I was amazed to find that Toronto is more aligned than ever with smaller communities across the country. My favourite moments at FCM gatherings are when we band together with councillors from small and medium cities to figure out what we have in common and what we should collectively ask for to make our cities the best they can be. Last weekend, every time I stopped to catch up with an old FCM friend, the conversation quickly turned to: housing, homelessness, and mental health. This is evidence that we are not alone in our struggles and that there is no shame in asking for national and provincial action on these core issues.

I was also happy to participate in a large discussion on securing new revenue tools for Canadian cities. It wasn't even me who put that topic on the agenda, if you can believe it. Last week, I again wrote about the need for new revenue tools here in Toronto. This discussion at FCM shows that this issue has reached the national scale. There was a consensus amongst FCM members that we cannot solely turn to your property tax bill to dig our way out of our post-pandemic economic challenges. If cities across Canada continue to come together on this issue, it will help us secure the tools we need to give our cities secure financial futures.

Another feature of every FCM AGM is study tours. The host city loads councillors onto buses and takes them to see inspiring local projects. Toronto is so vast, and there are so many projects on the go, that I decided to catch myself up on my own hometown by taking a tour of our Waterfront Revitalization projects. As part of our tour, we climbed an observation tower at the foot of Cherry Street to view the entirety of the massive Don River redirection. I can't wait until you are all able to go down there on a weekend and enjoy the parklands that are being constructed around the Mouth of the Don.

Our view of the mouth of the Don River during our FCM tour. Great work is being done to turn this into a vibrant public park.

It would be easy to overlook a conference like FCM. In a city like Toronto that plays hosts to major international conferences, the FCM crowd of around 5000 attendees seems modest. But knowing that history of this organization, I will always track its progress online and attend when I can.

Historically, Toronto has had a strong involvement in FCM. If I go all the way back to 2001, the last time a Toronto politician was elected president of FCM, we started something that serves us all to this day. That president was Jack Layton, who had been a Chair of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund. He convinced his FCM colleagues that they should replicate our modest local endowment fund that invested in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but on a national scale. This was the start of the Green Municipal Fund (GMF). Today, the GMF has grown to an endowment of $1.6 billion. Municipalities across the country are able to use this fund to reduce emissions and fight climate change.

In 2006, Toronto Mayor David Miller worked with the FCM Big City Mayors' Caucus, the Rural Forum, and Infrastructure Minister John Godfrey to get Canadian cities a share of the Federal Gas Tax. Once this was achieved, the entire FCM membership embarked on a national campaign to make that share permanent. Even though federal leadership changed a year later, the new government honoured FCM's request and did indeed make the share permanent. In Toronto, those dollars go straight towards operating our transit system every year.

This is exactly where the value of FCM lies. These examples show us that we don't always get what we want by shouting that Toronto is the largest and therefore most unique city in the country. Some of the most lasting benefits we have negotiated for our city came from working together with cities of all sizes across the nation and discovering that we have a great many challenges in common. As we look for new and impactful ways to tackle our biggest issues—climate change, housing and homelessness, mental health, financial woes, and more—we should remember that we are stronger when we work together.


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