Most Canadians live in big cities like Toronto and Montreal. We produce almost all of your new jobs. We pay the vast majority of your taxes. And yet we’re forever at the mercy of provincial leaders like Doug Ford who disparage us whenever they’re not ignoring us.
Like the people who founded this country, men like Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin, we want home rule and responsible government. What we’ve had for the last half century is irresponsible government and taxation without representation.
Under the existing system, the relationship between province and city is roughly equivalent to the relationship between parents and their dependent children. We entrust provinces with billions of dollars worth of resources and expect them to take care of their dependent cities.
But I think it’s obvious to anyone who’s paying attention that the provinces have consistently failed to do this. If provinces were parents, their kids would be in foster care.
A New Separation of Powers
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.
—The Silent Majority