Mending Canada’s Frayed Social Safety Net: The role of municipal governments

Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Canada’s social safety net is fraying, cities strain to fill the gaps says new report from FCM
OTTAWA, March 24 /CNW Telbec/ – The federal and provincial retreat from traditional social transfers in the 1990s has frayed Canada’s social safety net, and cities are now struggling to fill the growing gaps.

That trend, exacerbated by the current recession and growing urbanization, is the principal finding of a new report from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), entitled Mending Canada’s Frayed Social Safety Net: The role of municipal governments. This is the sixth report in a series looking at quality-of-life issues and indicators in Canada’s urban centres.

“We have a new class of working poor in our country; waiting lists for affordable housing that keep getting longer; and people struggling to get to work and find childcare,” said FCM President, Mayor Basil Stewart of Summerside, P.E.I. “More and more, the only things giving these people a fighting chance are the services provided by municipal governments.”

In addition to direct social services, such as affordable housing, emergency shelters, and subsidized childcare, municipal governments deliver public services that help millions of Canadians earn a living and raise their families, like public transit, recreation programs and libraries.

The report looks at the changing face of poverty and the growing reliance on municipal social services for many vulnerable groups in the 24 urban communities that make up FCM’s Quality of Life Reporting System. According to the report, cities are doing what they can to fill the gaps created by federal and provincial program cuts but their limited resources have meant difficult trade-offs.

“Often we have no choice but to rob Peter to pay Paul; deferring investments in roads or water treatment to pay for affordable housing,” says Stewart.

Municipal finances are not robust enough to continue supporting these added responsibilities without help, adds Stewart.

“Not only do we have to make do with just eight cents out of every tax dollar collected, but our forced reliance on the property tax means that we often have to tax the very people we’re trying to help. This challenge is only going to get bigger as cities and towns continue to grow, attracting the lion’s share of our new immigrants.”

Mr. Stewart says the report’s findings support FCM’s call for continued federal support for cities.

“New growth, the recession, and the legacy of the 1990s have changed Canada and are taking a huge toll at street-level. We can’t go on pretending the system isn’t broken. All governments–and all political parties–need to acknowledge the problem and they need to respond.”

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News article summarizes some of the facts:
Report: Canadian cities struggle with social services