The Economic Action Plan showed how much can be achieved when governments work together. Municipalities turned stimulus money from Ottawa into new jobs by matching federal investments dollar for dollar and managing thousands of frontline projects across the country. The success of this partnership was made possible by the hard work, talent and dedication of federal public servants.
During the early days of the stimulus program, municipal officials had to work hard and fast to submit applications to the federal government and meet the deadlines. Infrastructure Canada officials were available to consult closely with municipal staff to help them complete applications and make the process easier, faster and more likely to result in a successful outcome.
As the stimulus projects proceeded, once the funds had been allocated, municipalities started to realize that due to weather delays and unanticipated changes to costs of supplies and labour, they had to adjust their original projected timelines and budgets. And once again, Infrastructure Canada officials offered valued assistance and worked with cities and communities across the country, to problem-solve with municipal officials to make sure the projects could go ahead and continue to benefit from federal funding.
Moreover, in many cases where the municipality realized that their costs would come in under budget, federal officials helped them redirect the excess funds so that the stimulus program could maximize its job creation potential, and reconstruct and improve as much local infrastructure as possible.
To recognize this extraordinary work, in 2009 the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) national board of directors hosted a luncheon with Minister John Baird to recognize over 40 public servants for their work on projects to fight the recession and create jobs.
But the Economic Action Plan is not the only instance where Canadians benefited from governments working closely together, supported by effective and dedicated public servants.
Since the federal government introduced its new wastewater regulations, Environment Canada officials have been working with municipal staff to trouble shoot and problem solve the first draft of the regulations. Like any new regulations, there is a tremendous amount of detail and technical complexity that can only be streamlined and optimized with the input of frontline practitioners, in this case municipal staff who run the country’s wastewater treatment plants. In small working groups, Environment Canada staff have been working with these frontline experts to test their assumptions and check their data to ensure that the final regulations will improve water quality and facilitate regulatory compliance by the operators.
Cities and communities are where national, regional and local issues intersect. From public safety to immigrant settlement to efficient transportation, municipal governments are on the frontlines of a multitude of issues and provide other governments with local delivery capacity and responsiveness. Beyond jurisdictional considerations, municipal governments’ central role in meeting national priorities, including quality public infrastructure, establishes a critical link to the federal agenda.
To strengthen our economy and protect our quality of life, Canada needs cities and communities that are innovation and investment hubs. Places with the infrastructure and services to support growing businesses and working families, and the high quality of life that will allow Canada to compete globally and attract and retain skilled workers.
Municipal governments, already struggling with shrinking revenues and growing responsibilities, do not have the tools to respond to these challenges alone. All orders of government must work together.
Today, for the first time, all national parties agree that the federal government has an important, ongoing role to play in our cities and communities; with the continued support of the public service we can put this consensus to work.
Hans Cunningham is president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.