“All countries are artificial; all cities are natural.”—Aaron Haspel, Everything (2015)
Ask yourself this: if we were drawing up our Constitution today, would we give our cities only eight percent of the tax revenue, leaving the rest for the provinces and the federal government? Certainly not. Yet that is the situation in Canada today. So why not change it?
The problems faced by our cities are structural. Cosmetic changes won’t fix our crumbling cities; halfhearted gestures towards buzzwords like ‘efficiency’ or ‘transparency’ won’t either. We don’t need another interior decorator. We need a general contractor. The financial foundations of our cities cannot support the weight of 21st-century Canada.
We need a new separation of powers, or indeed a new balance of power, in our nation. The challenges we face today, like integrating new Canadians into our social fabric, or transitioning to low-carbon-emission lifestyles, are happening in urban Canada. To build the future we want, we need to fix the problems of the past, and that means giving Canadian municipalities the tax revenue they’re missing. Our cities need the real power that comes with real money.
Right now we pay two income taxes: federal and provincial. But we want to pay more. We want to pay three: federal, provincial, and municipal. We want the money we pay in income taxes each year to be divided up as follows: one-third to the federal government, one-third to our provincial government, and one-third to our municipal government.
It’s appalling that our mayors have to debase themselves each year—hat in hand, like pathetic panhandlers—and beg their provinces and Ottawa to give them a little bit of the money that WE, city-dwelling taxpayers, put in THEIR pockets. We dream of a future wherein the provinces and Ottawa have to come to City Hall when they want to increase spending on this or that.
Our taxation system made sense in 19th-century Canada, but it makes no sense now. In 1867, Canadian cities had no electrical grids to maintain. There weren’t any paved roads. Their waste water systems dumped untreated sewage into the waterways. Their transit systems, if they had them, consisted of horse-drawn carriages. The modern infrastructure we all take for granted—snowplows, treated water, electric light, and so much more—didn’t exist when Canada divided up jurisdictions and taxing authority among the various orders of government. And so, it’s no surprise that cities weren’t given the taxing powers to pay for it. But we live in a new world now: cities are where the action is in 21st-century Canada. And it’s time that our taxation system reflected that simple fact.
—Andrew Miller & John Faithful Hamer