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Montreal and Toronto mayors Gérald Tremblay [left] and David Miller share a laugh during a news conference outlining big-city mayors' expectations from federal party leaders. ((Peter McCabe/Canadian Press))

Cities need better "fiscal tools" to boost revenue and continue their role as Canada's economic engines or the country will suffer, big-city mayors told campaigning party leaders Tuesday.

Montreal and Toronto mayors Gérald Tremblay and David Miller laid out their demands for urban municipalities, describing cities' current financial problems as a national issue.

"The fiscal imbalance may be a memory on Parliament Hill but it's still a reality on our city streets," Miller said at a news conference in Montreal organized by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

"Homelessness, traffic gridlock, crowded buses and overstretched police departments are just some of the symptoms," he said.

"These problems are too big and too important to be solved on the backs of property taxpayers.

With more than 80 per cent of Canadians living in major urban centres, cities have become the country's economic, social and cultural development engines and need appropriate support, Montreal's Tremblay said.

"In order to remain competitive, transport goods efficiently and attract new talent, our cities require quality infrastructure, affordable housing and first-rate recreational and cultural facilities," he said.

"Canadian cities do not have the fiscal tools required to make these new investments."

The Federal Gas Tax Fund was an important federal commitment, but more is needed to tackle cities' overwhelming infrastructure needs, said Jean Perrault, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and mayor of Sherbrooke, Que.