More than 1,800 municipal leaders from across Canada are calling for an overhaul of the way they get money from the federal government, especially when it comes to transportation and infrastructure projects.

Under the current federal tax transfer system, municipalities get eight cents of every federal tax dollar collected, and the federal government says it is transferring billions of dollars to municipalities over the next 10 years.

But some municipal leaders say they need much more to meet their needs.

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Federal transport minister Denis Lebel addressed municipal leaders at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference in Vancouver on Saturday. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

Early Saturday, in Vancouver at the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference, federal Transport Minister Denis Lebel announced a nationwide infrastructure investment of $53 billion over 10 years that will go toward roads, bridges, subways, and commuter rail.

Lebel called the Conservative government's pitch "the largest infrastructure plan in Canadian history" — a commitment applauded by FCM president Karen Leibovici, who received a "delivered" T-shirt from the minister.

"Since Minister Lebel took over the infrastructure portfolio, the federal government has worked more closely than ever before with local leaders on the issue," she told CBC News. 

Even as Leibovici referred to the $53-billion announcement as "ground-breaking," Minister Lebel said he understood that not all municipal leaders would be swayed by the promise.

"I'm a former mayor," Lebel said. "When we ask a mayor if it's enough for money, he will always say no. I know that. But we have invested more than ever in the past. Never has a government invested so much than ours."

Infrastructure deficits

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says the problem runs deep, and that many regions have been operating with too little for too long. He said the $53-billion announcement falls short of meeting present and future needs.

'Cities and communities across the country wanted more. We need to have more on the table to address the infrastructure deficits that we've built up over many years.' —Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson

"The commitment made by the federal government over 10 years on infrastructure is good a start. It's a base to work from, but cities and communities across the country wanted more. We need to have more on the table to address the infrastructure deficits that we've built up over many years," Robertson said.

Robertson also noted the federal government didn't include any new money for transit — a big priority in Metro Vancouver.

"We need to have a national funding supply for transit investment in our cities, and that isn't something we are getting currently," he said.

'We could take money directly from the federal government and try to do something with our own [transit] service.' —Delta Mayor Lois Jackson

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson says there needs to be an entirely new system on how money for transit gets transferred from the federal government to regional transit authorities, and then to the cities.

"We could get the service, which I don't see coming or, number two, we could take money directly from the federal government and try to do something with our own service," she said.

NDP proposes $420M gas tax transfer

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who spoke at the convention Saturday afternoon, said an NDP government would keep the current structure, but add something to it.

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Fedearl NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks with reporters at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Vancouver. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

"The NDP has a long standing proposal to transfer one cent of the existing gas tax to municipalities, which is $420 million. It's a lot of money, but still short of what is required."

Mulcair said the NDP, through the legacy of Jack Layton, have a proud record of standing up for municipalities in the federal sphere, and he called the Conservative government's recent budget "a shell game" that actually delivered $5.8 billion less over five years.

He also said the budget ignored the FCM’s calls for a plan to tackle the infrastructure deficit, which now stands at close to $200 billion.

With files from the CBC's Richard Zussman