Canadian cities buckling under demand for services | National Union of Public and General Employees

Canadian cities buckling under demand for services

Municipal programs floundering in the social aftermath of federal and provincial budget downloading in the 1990s.

Download Report: Quality of Life in Canadian CommunitiesOttawa (30 March 2010) - Canadian municipalities are buckling under the weight of federal and provincial budget downloading from the 1990s.
The shift forced them to shoulder much of the burden of the country's social safety net and it has left them with looming deficits and dwindling revenues to pay the ever escalating bills.

This is the conclusion of a new study by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), which surveyed two dozen urban areas that are home to 17 million people (54% of the national population).

Many services such as social housing, emergency shelters, public transit, child care, recreation and libraries are facing growing demand from an increasing number of lower-income Canadians.

"Together, these facilities, programs and services help fill the gap left by shrinking federal and provincial social assistance programs," said the report, Quality of Life in Canadian Communities - Mending Canada's frayed social safety net: The role of municipal governments.

"They form the social infrastructure that a growing number of people rely on to earn a living, raise their families and cope with difficult times. For a growing number of Canadians, their city is their safety net."

The study, reported by CanWest News Service, concluded that groups, such as single mothers, families with young children, immigrants and social-assistance recipients, are falling further behind the rest of the population, despite economic improvements in the quality of life during the first years of the past decade for seniors, aboriginals and people with disabilities.

"But even with these investments (in services by cities), long waiting lists for services, homelessness and working poor families suggest that demand is outpacing the municipal capacity to respond," the report notes. "This is because the funding model that forces cities to pay for social and physical infrastructure with revenue from the property tax is flawed."

The federation says property taxes were initially designed to support physical infrastructure but leave cities with only eight cents out of every tax dollar collected by provincial and federal governments.

“We have a new class of working poor in our country, waiting lists for affordable housing that keep getting longer and people struggling to get to work and find child care,” says Mayor Basil Stewart of Summerside, P.E.I., the current FCM president.

"More and more, the only things giving these people a fighting chance are the services provided by municipal governments," he notes.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

More information:
Report: Quality of Life in Canadian Communities
   - Mending Canada's frayed social safety net - pdf

• Backgrounder to main report - pdf
Backgrounder - facts and figures