Big city mayors answered with silence following demand for fiscal power

It’s time to bring how Canada treats cities into the 21st century: Toronto Mayor John Tory
WATCH: Canada’s big cities are accountable and responsible for delivering services so Toronto Mayor John Tory tells Tom Clark it’s time they have more power.

The mayors of five big cities haven’t heard a word since releasing an open letter demanding more power over revenue streams.

“I’m not holding my breath,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said on The West Block with Tom Clark. “Only because it seems we’re bound to a document largely conceived in 1867 which looked at cities like they were small towns.”

The letter argued that the fiscal power to serve residents currently sits with other levels of government.

READ MORE: Mayors of 5 major Canadian cities call for increased revenue powers in open letter

The mayors of Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver signed the letter along with Tory, which explained cities are forced to rely on property taxes to support growing operating budgets when they urgently require funds to invest on transit and roads.

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The five mayors said they are prepared to push for “reasonable measures,” to increase municipal revenues. But it’s not so easy – they first have to win over the provincial leaders who can introduce legislation.

READ MORE: Municipal leaders want changes to federal infrastructure plan

“I just think it’s time that we got our practices and our governance into the 21st century,” Tory said Sunday.

Getting there doesn’t have to involve opening a round of Constitutional talks, Tory said – neither he nor, he’d assume, most Canadians want to go through that.

READ MORE: Mayors of Canada’s biggest cities hopeful on infrastructure funding

“I think it’s a matter of attitude and approach,” he said. “Instead of kind of jealously guarding this ancient construct we put together in 1867, [the provinces could] say ‘Look, let’s just be real about this and be real partners and be willing to concede some ability on the part of these cities who are accountable.’'”

The letter went out as last week as Toronto city council examined 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.

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READ MORE: Toronto Mayor John Tory advocates for tolls on Gardiner, DVP

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.”

Ottawa, meanwhile, is looking at constructing a tunnel for trucks in an effort to clear up downtown streets, the letter read. In Vancouver, the lack of funding has hindered the city’s plans for transit, while in Edmonton and Calgary, the hope is that an updated means of obtaining funding would mean more predictable budgets, according to the letter.

The letter followed Montreal’s recent promotion to metropolis status. On Dec. 8 Phillipe Couillard’s government tabled a bill to give Montreal the special status which would give Montreal more power over things like operating hours of stores and bars.

READ MORE: Montreal receives official status as a metropolis


With files from The Canadian Press