By Joanne Venderheyden, Federation of Canadian Municipalities
After everything Canadians have been through in the last few years, they deserve a recovery they can see and feel in their daily lives. Rural communities have a key role to play in that. With a strong and united municipal voice, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is advocating for the tools needed to strengthen communities.
Municipalities own 60 per cent of the core infrastructure in our country. Rural communities know that our infrastructure renewal needs often outstrip the 10 cents of Canada’s tax dollar that we receive. The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) has done a great job raising awareness of the need for more support for rural roads and bridges, and beyond that many SARM members also have responsibilities related to infrastructure for wastewater, solid waste management, broadband connectivity and local facilities.
Investments in core infrastructure have long been recognized as a cornerstone of economic stimulus. Even after projects are built, they have an ongoing benefit to local industries and residents. Rural communities in Saskatchewan have been seeing a growing need for exporting key commodities from the agriculture, energy and manufacturing sectors. Meeting that need requires reliable infrastructure that benefits our local and national economies.
In 2019 and again in 2021, the FCM welcomed the federal government’s one-year doubling of the Canada Community-Building Fund (CCBF, formerly the federal Gas Tax Fund). These investments were in direct response to FCM’s relentless advocacy. They’ve meant an additional $62,571,380 for municipal infrastructure in Saskatchewan last year alone.
The fund name was changed to better reflect the program’s evolution over time (it has long been delinked from fuel taxes), but the objectives and administration remain the same. The CCBF is the permanent, predictable federal funding tool that empowers municipalities of all sizes to renew core infrastructure. It works because its flexibility leverages the expertise of local leaders – the ones closest to people’s daily lives.
In Saskatchewan, the fund is heavily used for work on rural roads and bridges, but we’ve also seen communities make good use of the funding to expand and upgrade facilities like the Ormiston Community Hall kitchen (R.M. of Excel No. 71). The R.M. of Chesterfield No. 261 used it to install water pumping sites for rural residents to obtain clean drinking water. And the R.M. of Willowdale No. 153 put the fund to work retrofitting the municipal office to reduce annual energy usage.
As we look towards economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, FCM, along with our provincial partners like SARM, is calling for the federal government to permanently grow this
tool, increasing the annual transfer in 2022–23 to $4.6 billion – and boosting its annual growth index from 2.0 to 3.5 percent to reflect construction inflation realities. This will directly empower local leaders to create jobs and build better lives.
We’re also calling for targeted new investments to water/wastewater infrastructure and rural and northern infrastructure, recognizing there are significant unmet needs in these areas. Small communities in particular are looking for predictability for infrastructure solutions that can’t be fully funded through other federal programs.
There are a couple of things you can do to support this advocacy ahead of the upcoming 2022 federal budget and to raise overall awareness of the importance of predictable funding for core infrastructure renewal. The first thing you can do is reach out to your local MP to let them know that you’re looking to see funding for rural infrastructure in future budgets. Let them know what you’d be able to do with a bit of extra support and how that work would benefit your mutual constituents. Second, I want to urge you to take time to promote the work you do with the CCBF. Something like resurfacing a stretch of road might seem unremarkable but it’s vitally important. Sharing your CCBF success stories with your residents and MPs goes a long way to helping us make the case for more funding in Ottawa.
Let me conclude by thanking the many Saskatchewan members who have already taken these steps. Your voice has real influence.
Joanne Vanderheyden is the president of the FCM and mayor of Strathroy-Caradoc, Ont. She’s also a councillor for Middlesex County, Ont. FCM is the national voice of Canada’s local governments, with more than 2,000 members representing 90 per cent of Canadians.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of Rural Councillor magazine, the official publication of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. It is reprinted with permission.