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It's all about cities' infrastucture at Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference

As one self-professed “infrastructure junkie” put it: “I see a [water filtration center] and get excited. The majority of the Canadian public is disconnected from that.”

The fact that new waste management facilities or improved roads may not be the sexiest topic for the Canadian public is not lost on the attendees of the Annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference and Trade Show.

The conference offers an important opportunity for the over 2000 members of the FCM from communities ranging from Saint John, NB, and Comox, BC, a chance to meet, exchange and debate ideas, and work together to better affect change in their communities.

Maybe not sexy,  but the importance of new roads, better community services and health services cannot be understated for cities like Vancouver.

On a superficial level, it may be the difference between an artsy and cool neighborhood, and an over-gentrified, commercialized, glass prison built upon un-sexy policy developments.

Take for example downtown bike lanes, which enhance the feel and accessibility of the city, or the zoning laws that stop buildings from over 3 stories being built on Commercial Drive, thereby preserving the neighborhood.

For small towns, the impact of infrastructure is much more closely felt. A city council member from Mississauga spoke in a workshop on advocacy tools for communities about how new community services and roads are the difference between people staying in a town or moving away.

The Mayor of Comox BC, speaking about the effect of data accumulated by the FCM on tax revenue, cited a need for better communication between the public and policy makers about how policy works in his community of 13,000. “Our residents just expect us to do the work…they turn the tap and expect water to come out.” 

Another city councilor from Penticton spoke about the problem of the rural-urban divide in funding, where already limited money due to federal changes to municipal funding are further limited by per capita money grants.

For Shawn Menard, Manager of Government Relations for the FCM, the necessity of infrastructure, and the ability to talk about the same basic problems regardless of the size of the community the attendees of the conference represented was a unifying factor that shouldn’t be discounted.

“75% of our membership has a population of less that 10,000… It’s our national pastime to divide our selves along regional, provincial, and linguistic lines… It’s a amazing we can all get together.”

Increasing the ability of municipalities to make changes that better benefit their communities is the goal of the FCM’s 2013 Report on the State of Canada’s cities and Communities.

The Report notes that only two programs or investments have contributed to changing Canada’s “19th century” framework for federal and municipal co-operation, and demands that the federal government “explicitly recognize the role of cities and communities in national prosperity, the challenges they face, and the national interest in vibrant, competitive, and safe communities.”

The Conference continues until June 3, and features speeches from Rick Hansen, Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, and Elizabeth May.

Check back on the Vancouver Observer for updates.

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