The Federation of Canadian Municipalities held a meeting with leaders from across the country last week in the County of Annapolis, Nova Scotia to discuss goals and objectives of Canada’s municipalities for the next year.
President of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association Gordon Barnhart was at the meeting, along with SUMA Executive Member Darren Hill, Yorkton City Councillor and SUMA Director Randy Goulden, Warman Mayor Sheryl Spence, and Ray Orb, President of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM).
Topics included cannabis legalization, municipal empowerment, among others.
The organization sent a message saying municipalities will oppose any use of the notwithstanding clause that would override local decision-making and democratic rights at the local level.
This was spurred by Ontario Premier Doug Ford invoking the clause in an effort to cut Toronto City Council nearly in half, amid a civic election campaign.
Gordon Barnhart says on one hand they appreciate the fact that municipalities are not recognized in the Constitution but exist because of provincial legislation.
“But on the other hand our membership felt very strongly that by using the notwithstanding clause at that particular time was interfering with the rights of Toronto City Council to have a fair election.” he added.
With the federal election next October, the F-C-M wants to make clear its support for municipalities to govern their own affairs and represent their residents’ interests.
Barnhart says the organization wants that to be front and centre for all federal parties as they prepare their platforms.
“We want to make sure that all of the political parties are focused on the importance of local government, and then secondly realizing the services that we provide,” he said. “We are the level of government that’s closest to the people. We provide a lot of the services that they very much depend on, like sewer water, garbage pickup and all of those sorts of things.”
Members agreed that now is the time to focus on local decision-making, greater empowerment for cities and towns, and the necessary fiscal tools to make that happen.
“As federal political parties prepare for next year’s election, it is time for a mature and modern conversation about how to empower municipal autonomy,” said FCM President Vicki-May Hamm in a news release. “We need political will from every order of government to have a conversation about how we work together within the Constitution. With engaged federal partners, we know it can be done.”
The much-talked about topic that is legalization of cannabis was brought up during the meeting.
Barnhart says municipalities need assurances that municipal costs will be covered through financial tools like revenue sharing. Since marijuana becoming legal is uncharted waters for everyone involved, he adds time will tell where this endeavour will go.
Barnhart also brought it up during a conversation with an RCMP officer while on the east coast.
“I made (a) comment about cannabis and he said ‘you know people are smoking cannabis now’ so his feeling was, perhaps, it’s not going to be as big a change as others are fearing.”
The legalization date is October 17th.