In a sea of smaller municipalities, Canada's big cities are simply outnumbered
A report recently went before Vancouver City Council asking for significant funding to continue supporting an organization called the FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities). It is the lobby group that represents municipalities across the country.
Over the last ten years, I've probably been to at least seven annual FCM conferences held across Canada. They are grand affairs with upwards of 2000 delegates (mayors and councillors) hosted by the city in which they take place. You get to mingle with everyone from the Mayor of Estevan, Saskatchewan to the Mayor of Toronto.
Unfortunately for Canada's big cities which represent over 70% of the population, they are very poorly represented under the current FCM model. That's because the Mayor of Dryden, Ontario has the same vote as the Mayor of Montreal. If you crunch the numbers, small and mid-sized communities far outnumber big cities who make up only a minority of the delegates.
So is it time for Canada's three big cities to re-think their strategy? What if Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver agreed they were going to set up a new C3 organization committed to moving their collective agenda forward? Whether it's the issue of drug addiction, crime, infrastructure, immigration, mental illness, taxation etc...these three cities will have a lot more in common with each other, than they will with Morinville, Alberta.
I should recognize that FCM has established something called the Big City Mayor's Caucus (BCMC) to address the fact not all municipalities were created equal. It is supported and staffed by FCM employees, and for the most part is not a bad step forward. However, it is poorly structured, heavily dominated by Toronto-centric thinking, and seems to have lost its steam over the years.
BCMC also includes a number of cities such as Saskatoon and Regina. What convinced me that big cities need a new C3 model was a conversation that took place at one of those FCM conventions. It took place between the Mayors of Montreal, Vancouver and an unnamed smaller city [you know who you are].
The three mayors were talking about drug addiction and homelessness on city streets. The Mayor of the smaller city was lecturing the other two mayors that he had solved his homelessness and drug addiction problem by taking a tough love approach. He was citing a successful policy of instituting zero tolerance of drugs or alcohol in a number of their shelter and supportive housing facilities.
The Mayor of Vancouver then asked "what do you do with all your addicted population who simply can't access these facilities because they haven't solved their addiction?" It was then the Mayor of Montreal said "they pack them up and send them to our cities." After a bit of nervous laughter, all of the political aides started packing up their bags and the meeting came to an abrupt end.
That conversation highlites the fact that even within the BCMC, there is a real difference between issues the 3 big cities face, compared to moderately-sized cities in Canada.
I believe the time has come for Canada's three biggest metropolitan areas to set up a new body to help them move their collective political agenda forward. My bet is if they did, senior levels of government would stand up and pay more attention.