Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a roundtable discussion with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' Big City Mayors' Caucus, and delivers brief opening remarks in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian municipalities seek emergency federal funding

The organization representing nearly 2,000 municipalities nationwide is calling on the federal government to provide at least $10 billion in emergency funding to local governments to make up for financial losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) says local governments all over the country are facing an unprecedented cash crunch and are on the brink of a financial crisis as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“From turning arenas into safe shelters to deferring property taxes, municipal leaders are working flat-out to support Canadians through this pandemic,” FCM president Bill Karsten said in a statement.

“But with new expenses, staggering drops in revenue and no freedom to run deficits, municipalities need emergency funding to keep essential services going strong.”

Canadian municipalities are facing a minimum of $10-15 billion in near-term losses due to COVID-19, the FCM says.

That figure includes foregone property taxes, utility charges and user fees—including an estimated $400 million each month from lost transit ridership as fewer people take public transportation to reduce the risk of infection.

At the same time, municipalities are taking unprecedented steps to support public health and safety.

The national organization says local governments need at least $10 billion in emergency operating funding, including at least $7.6 billion in direct federal allocations to all municipalities, plus $2.4 billion for those that operate public transit systems.

“Emergency funding for municipalities is the next step to get Canadians through this pandemic,” said Karsten.

“From fire and ambulance to safe transit for essential workers, this is about delivering vital services when people need them the most. We’re all in this together, and our municipal-federal partnership can help carry Canadians through this crisis—and be ready, when the time comes, to drive the economic recovery they’ll be counting on.”

Speaking at his daily press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was well aware of the distinct challenges faced by the various levels of government across Canada.

“We’ve had a number of conversations with the provinces on their financial challenges, as we know municipalities are governed by the provinces,” Trudeau said.

“We will continue to work with the provinces but we will also continue to work directly with municipalities to make sure that Canadians get the services they need, get the support they need.”

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