Karin Jordan | CUPE Communications

The need for new and fairer ways to fund municipalities was a key conversation at this year’s national conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

CUPE helped spark the much-needed discussion with a new guide advocating for municipalities to have access to progressive revenue sources. Building better communities: A fair funding toolkit for cities and towns looks at the state of municipal revenues, and offers insight into new and fairer sources.

A well-attended CUPE workshop launched the tool with Canadian municipal leaders gathered in Niagara Falls for the conference. 

“The need is urgent. It’s crucial for our social and economic health that new funding sources shift costs fairly onto those who can most afford to pay,” said CUPE National President Paul Moist, during the workshop.

“Unlike other countries, our municipal governments are forced to rely heavily on property taxes and user fees. This is unfair, and inadequate,” said Moist. “These regressive taxes mean lower-income earners pay a higher share than those with higher incomes, contributing to income inequality.”

“We need a balanced approach, with greater sources of municipal revenue generating tools,” said Newfoundland’s Centreville-Wareham-Trinity Mayor Churence Rogers, a panelist at the workshop.

Rogers, who is also president of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, is helping spearhead a provincial campaign for a new municipal fiscal framework that looks at several revenue sources, including a share of provincial income tax.

“Sharing one per cent of the provincial income tax would significantly increase predictable, sustainable revenues – something that’s desperately needed,” said Rogers.

Advocating for more and better municipal revenues is also about broadening the conversation.

The need is urgent. It’s crucial for our social and economic health that new funding sources shift costs fairly onto those who can most afford to pay. 

“Often, the municipal budget process only gives us numbers – not the positive outcomes of that spending. Let’s start at the other end, with what our communities need, and then talk about how we get there,” said workshop panelist and toolkit author Katrina Miller. 

“We need to build budget literacy, so people can decode the budget, so they can support spending on universal public services. Because they will support it,” said Miller, a researcher and community organizer with Toronto-based Public Interest. Linking taxes directly with what they pay for is a powerful antidote to the right-wing call for tax cuts and freezes. 

“If we’re going to tackle inequality, municipal spending is a critical part of the puzzle.

For every tax dollar spent on social programs and infrastructure, we get more than twice the return of a dollar spent on tax cuts,” said panelist Diana Gibson, president of Canadians for Tax Fairness. “We need to reframe taxes from being a burden, to being a bargain.”

Gibson is the co-author of a research paper on fair municipal revenues that CUPE will publish in the coming months. 

The toolkit looks at various revenue tools, evaluating each for its fairness, impact on local finances, and ease of use.

 A fair funding toolkit is available to help build better communities.