Like many sectors, local governments have annual gatherings to learn, network, advocate, and share best practices. The City of Prince George participates in regional, provincial, and annual conventions each year, and I have attended as a delegate at each since I began my term. I always find the conventions to be a bit of a whirlwind; 100’s of hours of policy debate, workshops, keynotes, speeches, and a whole lot of handshakes make the days pass fast and furious. Each convention, I start eager to document and share what I learn, but by the end of the convention, I come home exhausted, and never end up getting pen to paper.
This year, I got smart and recruited a little help from a friend! I brought my good friend Christine Kinnie to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Ottawa last week so that we could see the sites together during my down time. She was thrilled to learn that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be making a speech on the first morning of the convention. She raced from the airport to catch an opportunity to see the Prime Minister in action, but as a companion of a delegate, she only had free access to the convention trade show, but none of the workshops or keynote speeches.
So, we made a deal. I gave her my delegate badge for the morning so that she could watch the Prime Ministers speech, and in exchange, she would take notes and write a little blog post on her thoughts. Christine is a great writer, and I hope you enjoy her perspective as a non-politician taking in a speech from the Prime Minister and meeting hundreds of local government elected officials from across the country.
“My first trip to the capital city was also my first time seeing the Prime Minister in person, thanks to my good friend Jillian who invited me to accompany her to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Annual Conference and Tradeshow in Ottawa this month. I flew in from BC on the first morning of the conference and took a taxi straight to the Shaw Centre where the event was being held so as not to miss the opportunity. Clark Somerville, FCM President, gave a genuinely warm introduction, explaining that the Federal Government was now involved in supporting municipalities in an unprecedented way. He introduced the Rt Hon Justin Trudeau as colleague and friend, to the standing-room-only crowd.
It’s hard to be unbiased about the Prime Minister. I’m a middle class lone parent, and under his leadership, I have had my monthly child tax credit increased (tax-free; I had to pay back everything the last PM gave us), and I’ve seen more of myself represented in a cabinet that has finally achieved gender parity. Thanks to the greater engagement the current federal government has with the FCM, I was with an equally friendly crowd.
In his speech, Trudeau mentioned that 3,000 municipal infrastructure projects have been approved, and praised Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, for his work. Trudeau also talked about public transport improvements, particularly the $1 billion allocated for the GO Transit Network, connecting the Greater Toronto Area. He acknowledged the serious housing challenge faced in urban centres, and that $11.2 billion would be given to build and repair affordable homes, and an additional $5 billion would be used to create a national housing fund.
The Prime Minister introduced the Smart Cities Challenge, to encourage innovation and the development of ambitious plans to improve communities. The most promising designs submitted would receive funding, with a top prize of $50 million.Trudeau also introduced the Canada Infrastructure Bank. Although 90% of funding for municipalities will be grants, the bank is an optional tool to leverage private capital.
After closing his speech, the Prime Minister stepped down into the crowd, shaking hands as he exited the building. I was unfortunately on the wrong side of the aisle, and unable to get through the crush. No matter who you are or how cynical you are about politics, it is hard to not be a little thrilled when you are in the same room as the Prime Minister, and just a little disappointed that you did not get to shake his hand.”