Canada needs new structures to allow municipalities to engage the federal government, says Parksville Mayor Chris Burger.
Burger was interviewed by The NEWS upon returning from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference in Vancouver last weekend.
Most of Parksville council was among more than 2,000 municipal delegates from across the country attending the annual event to discuss challenges and present a unified voice to senior governments.
"There was a lot of discussion about a shift in focus to a new relationship with the federal government," Burger said referring to an identified national "$200 billion infrastructure deficit."
The 76th annual conference kicked off with the release of a Report on the State of Cities and Communities, which Burger said highlights the need for better mechanisms to deal with the issues of housing, transit and infrastructure.
"Successive governments have not been investing anywhere near what's required, especially in the big cities," he said, pointing out that the FCM represents over 90 per cent of the country's population who live in cities.
Another major topic over the weekend was the stalled Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA).
"There was real concern about the possible ramifications for municipalities. There's concern about any loss of autonomy or the possibility of foreign interests overturning bylaws about procurement."
Burger said this is another issue where municipalities "are largely left out of the process even though there's almost more impact on us than anyone."
He pointed out that even though China is Australia's biggest trading partner, they have refused to sign any similar agreements.
Burger also spent an hour with a senior infrastructure analyst talking about the city's planned water works and had to explain the aquifer storage and recovery system (ASR) they want to build, which he had to describe to him.
"We always have to separate ourselves from the pack and let them know this could have a profound impact on funding," he said of the millions the project could save the city in the long run.
With that in mind he got to tour the country's biggest water filtration plant, a new facility in Vancouver and the huge dam.
"It boggles the mind to think about the volumes, but the principals are the same that we're dealing with here," he said envying Vancouver's ownership of their watershed, unlike Parksville's which is mostly privately owned.
Burger said it was nice the conference was so close so all of council (except Sue Powell, who was on vacation) could make it, unlike when they hold it in Central Canada or the Maritimes.