In an editorial that appeared this week in the Montreal Gazette, the editorial board took a swipe at Councillor Benoit Labonte's attempts to earmark 1% of the city's surplus toward food banks. Mayor Gerald Tremblay's majority on Council voted down the motion.
The Gazette states, "Tremblay's position is that Quebec, not municipalities, should be the last-resort funder of emergency services. He's right."
According to the Gazette, there are 200 food banks in Montreal that support about 112,000 people annually.
Montreal Council's position is in stark contrast to that of Vancouver City Council which in the last year turned over 12 city-owned sites to the Province in order to facilitate the construction of 1200 new units of social housing. Just last week, Mayor Robertson presided over a news conference whereby City taxpayers committed over half a million dollars to begin funding 200 new emergency shelter beds.
So who has it right? Montreal or Vancouver? There's no easy answer on this one, but the stark reality is that cities only get 8 cents of every tax dollar collected. Most of this revenue is based on an archaic tax collection system which means Canadian cities must rely mainly on residential and business property owners to fund their operations.
In the past, a lack of new tax revenue resulted in many cities rarely straying from providing anything beyond basic services such as parks, roads, lights, sewers, police etc...
Today, the reality is that many cities in Canada now provide significant funding for the arts, housing, mental health advocates and childcare. These are all areas that were traditionally the exclusive domain of senior levels of government.
It's hard to argue with the Gazette when they state "any help that food banks need from the taxpayers, immediate or gradual, should come by means of a uniform and carefully thought-out Quebec-wide policy, not via ad-hoc short-term appropriations from a city surplus."