Jack Layton goes to town

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual general meeting this weekend will hear from all three leaders of the national parties—a relatively rare convergence of Messrs Harper, Ignatieff and Layton outside the House.

Below is the prepared text for Mr. Layton’s remarks.

Ladies and gentlemen, Hans Cunningham, your soon-to-be FCM President! Hans had a great year as First VP. His Kootenay Ice did pretty well too, out in the Western Hockey League.

I may be a bit fixated on hockey today. And still mourning the Habs. But remember: there are 38 Canadian players in the Stanley Cup final! We can also remind our American friends who won that Olympic Gold Medal!

Let’s also hear it for your President — Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart! Congrats to Basil—to all of you, and to the Summerside Western Capitals—for a great year!

Je suis impressionné par votre croissance.  1 800 membres! La FCM représente dorénavant plus de 90 % des Canadiens!  Cela est tout à l’honneur de votre équipe exceptionnelle — de Brock Carlton, en passant par tous les employés. C’est aussi à l’honneur des besoins croissants qu’on entende votre voix à l’échelle nationale.

Ce besoin est ce dont je vais vous parler aujourd’hui.

Local governments matter more than ever in people’s daily lives. But I’ll be blunt today: your very relevance can be exploited by federal governments—and new  threats are looming. So I’ll talk about how New Democrats want to help you counter those threats and find a full-time place at the nation-building table.

Parce qu’il est temps que les municipalités soient des partenaires à part égale avec les autres paliers de gouvernement.


There’s a reason I spent 20 years in municipal politics in Toronto. It’s the same for most of you. Local government is a remarkable opportunity to connect with people’s lives.

Le travail n’est pas à propos d’items budgétaires. C’est la différence entre des routes sécuritaires et des tragédies. Entre des jeunes qui savent où ils vont et ceux qui sont sans direction. Entre des villes de classe mondiale et de villes qui stagnent.

Être en première ligne signifie adapter les politiques aux besoins locaux. Et vous êtes parfaitement placés pour comprendre comment les gens réagissent.

The FCM embraces that monitoring role with the Quality of Life Reporting System.  It’s a world class tool that lets check the patient’s pulse … cholesterol … PSA count…

I’ve been reflecting on my good fortune for having a family doctor — 4 million still don’t. Without that, I wouldn’t know I have treatable cancer. It would be growing quietly inside me.

The FCM is the primary care physician to Canada’s cities and communities. Sober. Talented. Needed.

Because 15 years ago, a Liberal government deployed the worst program cuts in a generation. Undercut health care and post-secondary funding. Signed the death warrant on cost-sharing for social assistance. Hacked EI rules to disqualify most workers. (And they’d already axed the housing program.)

You’ve been charting the human costs of cuts ever since. And the latest FCM thematic report brings things into the sharpest focus yet.

Is Canada’s traditional social safety net fraying? Absolutely. Predictably. And you’re showing how—meticulously.

Démasquer les coûts humains des coupures fédérales est un service public que vous rendez. Colmater les brèches qu’ils ont créées est un autre service public — et les municipalités le font également.

You picked up the ball on subsidized housing and childcare, on emergency shelters.

You took the lead on improving libraries, public transit, recreation programs.

Nobody ordered you to become champions of social infrastructure.

But here’s how our friend Basil Stewart put it: “From their position on the front line, municipal governments cannot turn away from need in their communities. Other governments have a choice … Much depends on their choices.”

Yes it does.


So there’s a reason I entered local politics. And when I went federal in 2003, there was a reason for that too.

By then, the effects of cuts were compounding. People were hurting. Cities were scrambling to fill the gaps, with no new resources.

Somehow, we had to fund our new roles. And we did it through property taxes, and by short-changing physical infrastructure.

Federal downloading was shifting social services from a progressive fiscal base to a regressive one…and spawning that $123-billion infrastructure deficit.

This was a historic national problem requiring historic national solutions.

By the time I became FCM president in 2001, we were calling for a New Deal for cities to match our expanding roles. And this year, we’re marking the fifth anniversary of that New Deal’s first step! That’s worth celebrating!

But let’s also remember two things about that achievement.

First, remember how hard we laboured. The minority government that finally delivered also resisted to the end. (That’s why I went federal—to press for national leadership.)

Second, GST rebates and Gas Tax transfers were to be the first of many steps to re-empower municipalities. Instead of being grateful when governments don’t cancel those early gains, it’s time to expect more.

You’ll need to be assertive. Because you still don’t have a proactive partner in the federal government.

Même si les mesures de stimulation étaient les bienvenues, elles cachent tout de même une belle mise en garde.

Aussi tard qu’à l’automne 2008, le premier ministre niait que nous faisions face à une crise économique — encore moins une que les municipalités pouvaient aider à régler.

Nous avons dû menacer de renverser le gouvernement pour qu’il décide de bouger dans ce dossier. Ensuite, ses ministres ont ignoré votre avis de ne pas repousser les mesures en forçant une approbation pour chaque projet ainsi que des règles pour égaler les fonds.

Vendredi, M. Harper aurait pu assumer ses responsabilités pour la débâcle de l’été dernier. Il aurait pu prolonger la date limite de mars 2011 pour que les municipalités ne soient pas prises avec les coûts des projets.

Rien. Et on n’a pas l’impression que les mesures de stimulations économiques sont un versement initial vers des solutions à long terme. Nous devrons nous battre pour ça.

And the downloading that left cities gasping? We see signs that Round Two is coming.

There are at least two ways to read the federal budget. One is with relief that city revenues weren’t simply cut. The other is with alarm that they’re pushing through massive corporate tax cuts.

This government is now borrowing billions to finance unconditional tax giveaways that do nothing to spark jobs, innovation or productivity.

By 2012, their giveaways will cost $15-billion each year in lost fiscal capacity. The phase-in costs alone are $60-billion—half the entire infrastructure deficit!

Imagine what they could accomplish by making better choices. And remember what the feds did the last time they ran up a huge deficit.

If you’re counting on federal goodwill to save cities from new downloading… Come back here in a month, when the G20 comes to town. They’re spending a billion dollars to make my city a ghost town. They’re shutting down  Blue Jays games. The University of Toronto.  Residents and merchants are bracing.

So who’ll handle the huge costs they’re imposing on this city? Downloading and unilateralism are in this federal government’s genes.

Need another example of that? New wastewater regulations. Did they spare a thought or a dollar to help you adapt?


We can’t afford another 1990s disaster, with deficits downloaded onto property tax bills, with social services tragically cut.

But that doesn’t mean I’m urging you to go on the defensive. On the contrary! There’s a better way to prevent more of the same. It’s time for municipalities to claim a seat at the table, as a full partner with other governments.

You’ve earned that seat at the table. By picking up the balls others dropped. With your innovation and flexibility. With that can-do attitude that says, “cutting people adrift is not an option.”

New Democrats want to help you claim that rightful place. Why? Because we see ourselves as part of a movement for a better society … and we see you on that movement’s front lines.

I understand the gist of Mr. Harper’s talk here on Friday was this: “we spent 62 billion on cities … our strategy for the recession is working.”  Good so far! But then he dropped the bomb. “No more funding.”

You’d think he’d want to make “the best strategy,” the one that’s working, a permanent part of building our communities for the future.

I understand he also tried to tell you how to keep your finances in order. Imagine! Lecturing people who make such tough choices to balance their books, by law… while he’s running up the biggest deficit in history. (You’ve got to admire his chutzpah.)

Did he acknowledge that cities and provinces together contributed more funds than he did? Did he talk about either order of government as financial partners for the road ahead? No.

He should know that cities aren’t looking for a hand out; they’re looking for a hand shake. The fact is, cities have always come to the table with money. That’s what good partners do.

Canada can be a world leader on economic growth, but only if the feds and cities work together. Conversely, Canada stands to lose billions in private investment globally by not investing in cities now—in infrastructure, housing, energy efficiency, renewables—all areas where FCM members are showing global leadership.

We’re already falling behind the US and European cities in this race. But we can turn this around, one step at a time. And here’s where New Democrats would start.

Let’s share an additional cent of the gas tax with municipalities for transit.

That’s an environmental investment that also answers your call for help easing urban commutes. Let’s do it immediately. It’s long overdue.

But alongside new revenue, you deserve strong national leadership.

Like Libby Davies’ bill to re-establish a national affordable housing strategy.

We’ve been fighting for this for years—now it’s one vote away from passing in the House! We can’t abandon cities to the housing crisis; it’s time to forge a new partnership.

We’re modelling national leadership with Olivia’s National Childcare Act.

It’s the leadership that was missing in 2005, when Ottawa made one-off deals with provinces, and left them vulnerable. We’re legislating a permanent national program that respects Quebec’s jurisdiction. We can’t keep asking cities to go it alone.

We’re promoting a comprehensive approach to making communities safer.

We’d modernize the Criminal Code systematically, not tweak it piecemeal to drive photo ops. We’d ensure fuller federal funding for community policing … and prevention strategies that target social roots of crime in our cities.

« Le leadership national » c’est la législation pour réparer l’assurance-emploi.

C’est mal que des millions de personnes ne soient pas éligibles à recevoir leurs prestations — trop d’entre eux tombent  plutôt dans le piège du chômage. C’est mal de demander aux villes de nettoyer le gâchis causé par ce programme fédéral défaillant.

Et aussi la motion réussie de Tony Martin qui réclame un plan complet contre la pauvreté  …incluant un leadership fédéral renouvelé pour le logement, l’aide sociale et les prestations pour enfants.

Le Parlement vient tout juste d’achever une étude sur la pauvreté qui a duré deux ans et qui explique justement que toute la pression est larguée sur les villes.

Our Climate Change Accountability Act recently passed in the House!

Getting it through the Senate will give Canada the world-class emissions targets we need! This should prompt Ottawa to partner with you on a national climate change strategy. Municipalities influence activities that generate nearly half of all emissions … and you’re already leading the way to cutting them.

The FCM Green Municipal Funds are an inspiring model of national leadership. Now it’s Ottawa’s turn to lead, by launching a full cap-and-trade carbon pricing system.  We can generate billions to invest in your ready-to-go green projects on a mass scale.


But why stop there? You’re not just agents of change for a greener economy. You’re agents of change, period.

Communities are where change happens. Where markets are developed. Where lives are lived well—or less so. Where immigrants come to stay—or stay away.

Dans un 21e siècle de mondialisation, nous parlerons de moins en moins du Canada qui rivalise avec la Chine, avec les États-Unis.  Nous parlerons plutôt que Toronto ou Montréal rivalise avec Hong Kong ou Singapore. Rivaliser pour des investissements. Pour des parts de marché. Pour les dollars des touristes. Pour les meilleurs cerveaux, les meilleurs talents.

Building a stronger country means building vibrant, safe cities. And a revitalized rural Canada. With world class infrastructure. Effective settlement services. Exceptional learning opportunities. A compelling quality of life

I was attracted to local politics for a reason, and drawn to federal politics for a reason, and in many ways I’ve come full circle.

I’m with you: it’s healthy partnerships between orders of government, on all kinds of levels, that’ll move this country forward. You can count on New Democrats to keep fighting for your rightful seat at the table.

Thank you. Merci.