Federal and provincial politicians dole out cash based on voter habits, Abbotsford mayor says

Mayor Henry Braun says cities need to be given new ways to pay for infrastructure

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun is getting tired of rejection, saying last week that senior levels of government ignore some cities’ plea for cash based on how their residents vote.

After Abbotsford learned that its latest grant application had been rejected, Braun spoke with frustration about the way the federal and provincial governments cities get infrastructure cash and which to not.

“This is more like a lottery than a competition,” Braun said at last week’s council meeting. “The system needs to change. It came into being in 1867 and this is the 21st Century and we need to change this system that we currently rely on.”

Braun’s main issue is the amount of infrastructure spending asked of cities, which are severely restricted in how they can raise revenue. And while provincial and federal governments do offer grants to help cities with infrastructure, Braun says that process is opaque, inconsistent and tainted by political scheming.

“The way our system works is when the governing party is not represented in your jurisdiction, when they have cabinet meetings and a request comes up, I’m told that the conversation kind of goes like this: They didn’t vote for us so why would we invest money in that jurisdiction,” he said. “When you do have representation, the conversation goes the other way. People say ‘Well, that riding is pretty secure why would we spend money in that riding because they always vote for us.’”

Braun and the mayors of British Columbia’s 13 largest cities recently came together to form the BC Urban Mayors Caucus to lobby senior levels of government. They say cities need access to consistent funding streams to help them fund their infrastructure.

Unlike in the United States or parts of Europe, Canadian municipalities can’t levy income or sales taxes. Instead, they rely almost completely on property taxes and development cost charges (DCCs) – and DCCs can only be used for infrastructure related to growth, rather than the maintenance and rebuilding of existing roads, bridges and buildings. Further angering Braun – and his counterpart in Langley – is a new provincial stance that says DCCs can’t be used to pay for the money cities are asked to contribute towards highway interchanges.

RELATED: Cities shouldn’t be on hook for highway interchanges they don’t own, Abbotsford mayor says

The reliance on property taxes, Braun says, has left Canadians facing some of the highest rates in the world. And he says the public should also start pestering their politicians.

“It’s time the public engages their MLAs and MPs to get this changed,” he said. “I don’t see a lot of uptake from our senior levels of government, but this has to change because we can’t fund the infrastructure that we’re responsible for – of 60% – and do it with property taxes.”

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