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Mending Canada’s frayed social safety net: The role of municipal governments

June 10, 2010

According to a report from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, municipalities are shouldering the demands for social infrastructure (such as housing, emergency shelters, public transit, childcare, recreation and libraries) that supports quality of life, despite persistent poverty and income inequality. The report, titled “Mending Canada’s Frayed Social Safety Net: The Role of Municipal Governments,” outlines the importance of municipal services for quality of life within vulnerable populations, including those with limitations due to mental illness. These services are patches upon the frayed social safety net for vulnerable groups, particularly since federal and provincial governments have both retreated from traditional social infrastructure such as social housing and social assistance. Ontario is uploading funding responsibilities for social assistance; however, municipalities still struggle with funding an array of social services.

With these new responsibilities beyond maintenance of physical infrastructure, municipalities are squeezing existing funding sources. Property-tax revenue and its eight cents assigned per tax dollar are inadequate to meet the growing need for social services from municipalities. Property tax is the largest revenue source for municipalities: just over 50 percent. The nature of the tax is regressive, however, because the poorest pay a higher proportion of their income on property tax. This is of particular concern where municipalities had the intention to use the property tax to redistribute income.

The report focuses on the demographics of Canadian poverty, income inequality and vulnerability, particularly in the 24 communities under study. Social municipal services are discussed in light of these vulnerable groups, especially with regard to access and affordability. The document is the sixth of a series from their Quality of Life Reporting System; it includes statistics from 24 member Canadian communities, of which 12 are regional municipalities and cities from Ontario. The reports are an advocacy and planning tool for the municipal sector, but also target community organizations, research institutes and other orders of government to support policies and actions to improve quality of life in Canadian municipalities.

See “Mending Canada’s Frayed Social Safety Net: The Role of Municipal Governments,” March 24, 2010, www.fcm.ca.

For more information on the provincial-municipal division of roles and responsibilities, see “Provincial-Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review” at www.mah.gov.on.ca.

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