Talks between the mayors of Canada's largest cities and Justin Trudeau's Liberal government continued today in Ottawa.
"We are restarting a relationship that had been significantly neglected over the last 10 years," Justin Trudeau told reporters at the conclusion of their Friday morning meeting on Parliament Hill.
From the mayors' perspective, Gregor Robertson of Vancouver said his colleagues were "thrilled" to be working with a prime minister who "gets cities."
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre echoed Robertson: "The new reality is that cities are part of the plan, part of the deal. We have to work together."
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The consultations and lobbying by the Big City Mayors' Caucus (BCMC) come as Trudeau's government prepares its first budget, expected late next month.
Ambitious plans for municipal infrastructure spending are intended to promote economic growth across Canada at a time when the resource sector is struggling.
"Obviously job losses are a continuing challenge across the country," said Trudeau. "[We need to be] responding to the very real needs for infrastructure investment that will lead to jobs and the kind of growth in our economy that that we haven't had over the past decade."
Trudeau also hinted at an expansion of EI benefits in the upcoming budget for provinces suffering at the hand of low commodity prices like Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
"There is a real need to offer support for Alberta families, many of whom are facing the first-ever experience of job losses and need for support and help."
Dismal jobs numbers drive infrastructure spending
In its latest labour report, Statistics Canada found Canada's economy shed 5,700 jobs in January and the unemployment rate inched up to 7.2 per cent. Alberta was hit the hardest with 10,000 fewer jobs.
When asked what was holding up municipal shovel-ready projects that could get people back to work immediately, Trudeau emphasized the need for responsible spending.
"Ensuring that we get the money flowing in a responsible but rapid way is a priority for all of us," said Trudeau.
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said there has been a migration of Albertans crossing the border into B.C. looking for work, as many as 5,000 or 6,000 in the past few months, she estimated.
"That's part of what we're doing to support Canada in growing our economy, and I think people who are hurting in other parts of the country need national help," said Clark.
Vancouver's mayor also stressed the need for funding to tackle issues like poverty and climate change at the municipal level.
"All of this we see as opportunity to get Canada back on track," said Robertson.
"We need to up our game across the country to make sure cities are getting support."
That increased investment, however, looks to draw the federal books into the red, perhaps more than advertised in the Liberal platform during last fall's election.
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"These projects will help create jobs and growth for Canadians. Community leaders understand this and we hope to see Trudeau come up with a plan and act on the mayors' requests as soon as possible," said Dianne Watts, the Conservative infrastructure critic.
Several ministers, including Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Immigration Minister John McCallum and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, are meeting separately with the mayors later Friday to discuss issues of particular concern to their portfolios, including:
- Upcoming federal budget appropriations for municipalities.
- Housing issues related to Canada's efforts to help Syrian refugees.
- Canada's renewed push to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Trudeau also met meeting B.C. Premier Christy Clark on Friday morning to discuss a similar list of shared priorities, including natural resource development.