At the heart of Saskatchewan’s story is a dynamic relationship between our rural and urban communities. Any balanced plan to improve the lives of Saskatchewan people needs to take into account the needs of urban, rural and remote areas, recognizing the unique needs of each.
The majority of Saskatchewan residents now live in urban centres that are vital to and enriched by their engagement with surrounding rural communities. That’s why we need to focus on regional needs and increased cooperation between cities and neighbouring rural municipalities. Clean water, safe streets, accessible housing — these and many other services we depend on are influenced by decisions at the municipal level. Cities are deeply involved in important areas of healthy public policy, including homelessness, food security, physical activity, crime prevention and more. The province needs to be at the table as a respectful partner, using the power of local governments to make wise decisions.
Making sure those decisions serve residents starts from the right relationship between municipalities and the province, a relationship built on trust. The surprises in last year’s budget and the significant downloading of costs onto municipalities have significantly eroded this trust. This has also worsened the political divide between cities and rural Saskatchewan. That disrespectful and damaging approach needs to end. We need to embark on a new relationship, one that involves municipal leaders in meaningful discussion on the best way forward, and which fosters a more positive relationship with the federal government so we can make the most of federal funding opportunities.
With a new relationship of trust and respect between governments, we can:
- Establish a regular schedule of meetings between municipal leaders and key ministers and involve municipalities and other key stakeholders in pre-budget consultation rather than delivering costly last-minute surprises. Engage in productive discussion around renewing the Cities Act so that it reflects the changing and diverse needs of smaller and larger centres.
- Provide clarity on regulations around legalized marijuana, and support cities in addressing policing challenges, investments in mental health and addictions, and a fair and meaningful revenue sharing formula.
- Apply the formula of revenue sharing to 1% of all PST collected, not just that predating the 2017 increase.
- Remove PST from construction labour, which adds significant cost to cities and other public institutions and slows an industry that’s key to our economic recovery.
- Work with cities on their official community plans, and remove barriers to energy efficiency in social and affordable housing by updating codes and regulations to facilitate sustainable growth in this important housing stock while reducing operating costs.
- Support cities in addressing climate change. Cities can be leaders in green neighbourhood design and renewable energy production. This includes much-needed clarity on carbon pricing policy and its impact on municipal budgets, and adopting energy efficiency elements of federal building codes at the provincial level in a proactive fashion instead of leaving each city to do that work themselves. The province needs to be a partner if we’re serious about meeting renewable energy targets.
- Support social enterprise, implementing procurement policies that recognize social benefit, focussing on the best value for the community, not only the lowest cost.
- Allow cities to explore means of revenue generation that are specific to their needs and are more progressive than property tax.
- Stop leaving federal dollars on the table by matching infrastructure funding. Saskatchewan is the only province that makes no investment in urban public transit, a problem further exacerbated by the closure of STC.
- Work with SaskPower to develop renewable energy production within cities and on adjacent land, increasing efficiency of transmission.
- Engage provincial departments in crime prevention, supporting service delivery and planning that increase public safety, including a provincial anti-gang strategy. Community safety is a concern for all of government, not just police and corrections.
- Support conservation and public space within urban centres, including returning to the tripartite funding agreement for the Meewasin Valley Authority and protecting Wascana Centre from commercial development.
- Review grants-in-lieu, defining a new formula that takes into account property use as well as historic agreements. Stop current practice of utility levies on a small number of cities feeding into general revenue fund.
- Involve urban centres in the development of a Health-in-All-Policies approach, working together to choose the investments and innovations that will make the most difference in the quality of life of Saskatchewan people.
Saskatchewan people expect and deserve competent and collaborative governance. Right now, the provincial government is failing cities by downloading costs. By working as positive partners with municipal leaders we can improve the lives of people in every community.
For a better relationship between municipalities and the province, vote Ryan Meili for leader of the Saskatchewan New Democrats.