TORONTO – Canadian cities should be able to control their own destiny, the mayors of five large Canadian urban centres said Tuesday as they demanded more power over revenue streams.
In an open letter, the mayors of Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver said cities find themselves having to ask permission to “do the right thing” for their growing populations.
The letter argued that the fiscal power to serve residents currently sits with other levels of government.
It explained that city governments are required to rely only on property taxes to support growing operating budgets at a time when investments on transit systems, roads and other infrastructure are urgently needed.
“When cities do well, our entire country benefits. But still, we find ourselves begging for control over our own finances,” the letter said. “Our request is simple: give us the tools to do the job and the accountability that goes with them and we’ll build great cities for the benefit of all Canadians.”
The mayors say they are ready to push for “reasonable measures” to increase municipal revenues but must still get approval from provincial leaders to introduce them.
In Toronto, road tolls have been proposed to fund transit expansion, the letter noted.
In Ottawa, a feasibility study outlines the possibility of a new truck tunnel to help the downtown core, the letter said.
In Metro Vancouver, a lack of new funding tools is straining property taxes and transit investments, while in Edmonton and Calgary, a new fiscal framework would lead to more predictable funding, the letter said.
“As mayors of Canada’s biggest cities we are ready to champion real solutions,” the letter said.
“These large infrastructure projects come at a great cost, and it is imperative that we collaborate with the provincial and federal governments to move forward with a solution that works for all.”
The letter went out as Toronto city council examined mayor John Tory’s proposal to impose tolls on two major highways in to and out of the city’s downtown core. Tory has said a $2 toll, for example, would raise more than $200 million annually for the city – a move which would help with road repair and transit infrastructure while easing congestion.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who has suggested the provincial Liberal government would not block any official request from Toronto for tolls, said Tuesday that she believes local community governments should have the opportunity “to make the investments that they need to make.”
“Once they’ve had discussions with their councils, with their communities, they should be able to move forward,” she said, when asked about the mayors’ letter.