Municipalities are managing the pandemic well, but they still need help and they shouldn’t have to beg for it. That was the one-sentence wrap up of a Cambridge Chamber of Commerce event Thursday morning where Guelph’s own Mayor Cam Guthrie, joined Mayor Kathryn McGarry of Cambridge and Mayor Patrick Brown of Brampton to trade notes on managing the pandemic, and potential issues that still lie ahead.
The virtual breakfast meeting brought Guthrie, McGarry and Brown together to talk about how their cities have managed the response to COVID-19, and the vitality of their local businesses. There were also some stern words for the upper levels of government, who were slow to deliver needed financial aid for cities as they lost millions in revenue and were forced to spend millions to adjust to COVID.
“We’re fortunate that after relentless pestering that the Prime Minister and the Premier came to the table, and the notion that we wouldn’t have money for these frontline heroes, for me, was repugnant,” Brown said. “I think we’re the only level of government that actually had to let people go to make our our finances work.”
Brown added that he’s confident that municipalities will be able to secure more funding next year, but at the same time he, McGarry and Guthrie were ready to “go down to Queen’s Park with pitchforks if we don’t.”
“I have two tools as the mayor; I have a shovel for new businesses to break ground and a pitchfork to go to upper levels of government,” Guthrie joked. “It’s next year that really is up in the air. We did get the Safe Restart money, and that was a massive help, but moving into 2021, we have collectively had our voices together, already sort of tapping on the shoulders of upper levels of government that this cannot be ignored.”
Guthrie added that he and his fellow mayors will be looking to some good news for municipalities in both the Federal and Provincial budgets in the spring.
“We cannot continue to have it work this way any longer,” he explained. “There’s a push now among many municipalities that we must have a grown up and mature discussion with the upper levels of government about how municipalities are funded. We shouldn’t be using a pitchfork, but we shouldn’t be jumping up and down in the corner with our hand up all the time either.”
“I think that the conversations at the provincial level hasn’t progressed to the point where the municipalities would like them, and we’re still fighting for some projects,” McGarry said diplomatically while noting frustration that Cambridge has not receive funds for large-scale projects like the Sportsplex, or the Cambridge portion of the ION LRT.
“We did not mince words in the weekly and bi-weekly meetings that I had with our area MPs and our regional colleagues that sit in those upper levels of government,” McGarry added. “I think Mayor Cam’s right, we have to now sit down and hammer out that deal because the cracks in the system are readily evident right now . We really need a new deal.”