02/01/2016 05:44 EST | Updated 02/01/2017 05:12 EST

Investing At The Local Level Helps Build A Stronger Canada

Toronto city skyline
Images Etc Ltd via Getty Images
Toronto city skyline

It's important to recognize when an historic opportunity is within reach. Canada is approaching just such an opportunity -- a moment that has the potential to be transformative for the cities and communities where we all live. Now we must seize it.

In Ottawa, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) will once again convene a meeting of its 21 big city mayors. FCM is assembling the Big City Mayors' Caucus in advance of the federal budget, building on discussions which have been underway ever since the new government took office in late 2015.

At the gathering, FCM and its mayors will meet with their federal counterparts to discuss the contours of the most significant investment in the quality of life of Canadians in decades. Mayors from communities of all sizes -- urban, rural, northern and remote -- are unanimous in their belief that investing in local jobs and in local communities is the best way to build Canada's economy of the future.

Representing the full diversity of this country, FCM and its mayors will outline what they can do to make Canada strong, vibrant and sustainable.

As FCM and its mayors discuss the upcoming federal budget, we will emphasize to our federal counterparts that municipalities must be the ones to set priorities at a local level. No order of government is in a better position to determine which project will offer the biggest benefit to the largest number of residents.

It is critical that we move away from one-off, project-based funding of municipal infrastructure. This Band-Aid approach is inefficient and makes it impossible for cities and communities to effectively plan long term.

After all, good budgets aren't simply about one-time spending. They're about generating much-needed economic growth that our communities are counting on today while also investing in the economy of tomorrow. That economy includes sustainable, globally competitive cities and communities.

It's important to remember that federal investments can't just focus on exciting new projects. We need to balance those priorities with the repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure and housing. Smart investments in renovations and retrofits, including eco-retrofits, could put thousands of units of social housing back into use in communities of all sizes right now.

This sort of investment is green, quick to initiate and meets a real need facing Canada's most vulnerable families. In other words, it's one solution that meets three strategic priorities -- if we seize the moment to drive that change.

Canada's municipal leaders have good reason to be confident in our partnership with the federal government. I'm pleased to say that they have been consulting with FCM, with mayors and councillors. Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi has first-hand experience and expertise as a former city councillor. Finance Minister Bill Morneau remains committed to large-scale investments in our economy. And the prime minister himself is personally engaged on this file, as he reaffirmed to me in recent weeks.

We are on the cusp of something truly significant in this country -- an opportunity with the potential to benefit all Canadians for generations to come. Budget 2016 can become a transformative moment. But real change takes action. FCM and its 2,000 cities and communities are ready to work in partnership with the federal government to get the job done.

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