We’re almost three months into the global COVID-19 pandemic and the depth of this crisis is greater in its economic scope and impact than most of us can remember.
COVID-19 has created, for cities, the greatest financial challenge we’ve had to face in recent history.
Municipalities across Canada are working around the clock to provide a broad range of essential services – social services for our most vulnerable residents, public transit, fire, paramedic and police services, support for local economic development, clean drinking water, solid waste collection and recycling, and much more.
Revenues are plummeting as costs rise across the board.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and under a state of emergency, the City of Ottawa faces net losses of $66 million by June, $123 million by September, and $186 million come December. This excludes financial impacts to the Ottawa Police Service, Ottawa Public Health, and the Ottawa Public Library.
Both the Government of Canada and provincial governments have boosted spending by hundreds of billions of dollars to see us through this crisis – an effort that is backstopped by a much greater fiscal capacity and the broader revenue base that typically includes sales and personal taxation.
But Canadian municipalities are on much shakier ground – given that our ability to generate revenue is largely based on property taxation. Cities are facing catastrophic financial losses due to deferred property taxes, collapsing transit ridership and revenue, and the rapidly escalating cost of keeping our most vulnerable residents as safe as possible under tremendously challenging circumstances.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, local MP and Minister of Infrastructure Catherine McKenna, and local area MPs have been seen by myself and other Canadian mayors as strong champions of the municipal agenda.
Building on this strong support, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is calling on the Government of Canada to commit to emergency operating funding of $10 billion in a one-time transfer for local governments to use as needed. Given the uneven fiscal capacity of provinces, we are seeking a federal commitment that is NOT contingent on matching provincial funds.
This would allow cities, towns and villages across the country to continue keeping residents safe and supported during this fight against COVID-19. And we need it sooner than later.
Later this morning, along with Councillor Tim Tierney, the City of Ottawa’s representative on the FCM Board of Directors, I will be moving a motion at Council to support the FCM and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) in lobbying the federal and provincial governments for this crucial one-time investment in our city – and in municipalities across the country.
Cities cannot afford to cancel or delay major capital projects or slash spending on essential municipal services while we focus our efforts on supporting the millions of Canadians who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. and unlike the provincial and federal governments, municipalities are not allowed under law to run a deficit.
Since the pandemic was declared, our provincial and federal governments have done a tremendous job of keeping us safe, and we are working closely with them to finally start to prudently reopen the economy.
Wisely, our provincial and federal governments have chosen to not cut services or employment levels, because doing so would undermine our collective efforts to restart our struggling economy and labour markets.
Cities play a vital role in economic growth, and municipalities need support to help drive local economic recovery efforts.
A federal investment in our cities now will ensure that the three levels of government can continue to work in partnership on getting Canada back up and running as quickly as possible.
Without the proposed investment in our cities, we face the daunting prospect of having to cut essential municipal services when our residents need them most, while imposing years of unacceptably high property tax increases while we try to rebuild our economy and regain the millions of jobs lost during COVID-19.
To the people of Ottawa – I offer my sincere thanks on behalf of all members of Council – for continuing to do your part in planking the curve by following public health guidelines. Through our individual behaviour, we are changing the course of this pandemic in our city and setting the stage for a faster recovery.
We will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever, if people and governments continue to work together.