Trudeau's comments on social housing funds make Nenshi 'very, very, very happy'

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi is pleased by an "unprecedented investment" in social housing hinted at by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as Canada's big city mayors met in Ottawa Friday.

Calgary mayor pleased by initial talks with PM on federal-municipal co-operation

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks with reporters following a news conference at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meetings in Ottawa on Jan. 20, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Naheed Nenshi says he's pleased by a potentially "unprecedented investment" in social housing promised by the prime minister, as Canada's big city mayors met in Ottawa Friday to discuss issues such as affordable housing, infrastructure, and the growing fentanyl crisis.

"Cities across Canada are starting to see deaths by overdose," the Calgary mayor said.

"They're starting to see the real problems that come with opioid addiction and it's time for us to share best practices."

Nenshi says cities need to work together to find solutions.

"That response has to do with treatment, it has to do with harm reduction, it has to deal with enforcement, it has to deal with cracking down on supply and all of these things have to happen together and no one city can do that alone," he said.

"So rather than reinvent the wheel, we need to come together with our partners in the provincial and federal governments to come up with a solution."

Between January and September 2016, 193 Albertans died from suspected overdoses linked to fentanyl, according to numbers provided by Alberta Health Services.

Calgary saw 82 suspected fentanyl overdose deaths during that time, while Edmonton saw 52.

'Very, very, very happy'

The big city mayors' caucus started the day by meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Nenshi said he was pleased with the talks.

"This government is remarkably open about conversations with municipalities — much more so than we've seen in the past," he said.

"The question now is: How do we translate that into real action on the ground that makes change for people? I was very, very, very happy to hear the prime minister say today that their investments in social housing they think will come in close to what the FCM [Federation of Canadian Municipalities] is asking for."

Nenshi said the prime minister suggested the government would come close to meeting the FCM request to have $12.6 billion set aside for housing out of the almost $22 billion available in the government's social infrastructure fund.

"If that's actually true, that will be an unprecedented investment," Nenshi said.

Housing and social problems

Nenshi said a lack of housing is a root cause of social problems, "not a symptom of other issues like addiction and mental health." That makes spending on social housing critical to the effort, he said.

The two issues were tied together during the closed-door meeting Friday in Ottawa where almost 20 mayors pushed Trudeau to address myriad issues in their cities.

The feds are also considering whether to pick up half the cost of new projects submitted under the second phase of their infrastructure program, a move municipalities endorse to give them some fiscal breathing room.

The money would help pay for new affordable housing units to reduce wait lists that sit at 10,000 in Ottawa and 3,000 in Calgary, for example, and to maintain existing units.

With files from Scott Dippel and The Canadian Press