Canada’s big city mayors to talk transit, infrastructure at Toronto meeting

WATCH: Nineteen mayors from Canada’s biggest cities are gathering in Toronto for the Big Cities Summit on Thursday, and Toronto Mayor John Tory wants to see a greater level of consistency when it comes to provincial and federal spending on issues like transit, infrastructure and housing.

TORONTO – Nineteen mayors from Canada’s biggest cities are gathering in Toronto for the Big Cities Summit on Thursday to talk a wide-range of issues including transit, infrastructure and housing.

Toronto Mayor John Tory is the local host, while the summit is being chaired by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson who chairs the Big City Mayors’ Caucus.

The big ticket items for discussion will be transit, infrastructure and housing but Robertson says the central theme will be “stable, long-term economic growth and prosperity.”

That’s the local governments’ way of saying they need more predictable and long-term investments from the provinces and the feds. The debate and discussion is longer than the list of needs and wants from the cities.

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In the extreme, the meeting runs the risk of being a replayed chorus of complaints and entitlement claims that can be easily ignored by the senior levels of government.

The problem is urban growth across the county is outpacing provincial and federal willingness to build and maintain the big ticket projects like affordable housing and public transit. Nowhere is that more evident than in the GTHA.

“(The) urgency for the need for investment is clear,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said.

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“We right now rely on these governments to come and go from funding things when it suits them or when they think they have the money or whatever. We need to be…just like a business, just like a family, we need to be investing all the time for the future. And what we need is predictable, consistent funding.”

It’s an old song. How does this group of 19 big city mayors, (5 of whom represent municipalities in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe), convince the provinces and Ottawa to start singing from their hymnal? Is it time for the cities to plant their flag and stand their ground? Tory says no. It’s all about presenting the best case to the first ministers and that means the local governments need to have some skin in the game.

“The cities have to be prepared to step up themselves. And I think, in Toronto’s case, we’ve said we’ll step up and we’ll support some of these big projects through our own tax dollars,” Tory said.

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But the mayors aren’t relying entirely on the kindness of others. They will be fashioning their own action plan around the upcoming federal election campaign. The point is to ensure the needs of Canada’s urban centres will be a key part of the campaign agenda.

Tory says the mayors need to make their case to the federal parties and Canadians to say “You cannot be financing the kinds of investments, on the scale we have to make them, through property taxes alone.”