Kingston Council requests ‘comprehensive’ review of provincial-municipal fiscal arrangement

Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson addresses City Council during a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Screen captured image.

At its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, Kingston City Council issued a request to the provincial government to undertake a “comprehensive social and economic prosperity review” in order to help stabilize municipal finances across Ontario.

The request came in the form of a new motion that was moved by Mayor Bryan Paterson and seconded by Lakeside Councillor (and current Deputy Mayor) Wendy Stephen. The motion calls on the provincial government to launch the review in partnership with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), suggesting a review would help stabilize municipal economies.

Citing the fact municipal contributions to “areas of provincial responsibility” outpace the provincial government’s contributions by “nearly $4 billion” annually, the motion argues that the current provincial-municipal fiscal arrangement is “undermining Ontario’s economic prosperity and quality of life.”

According to AMO’s own Social and Economic Prosperity review, released last October, the key areas of provincial responsibility include “social housing, long-term care, ambulance, social services, and child care.” Data from the Financial Information Return (FIR) database on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s website, as cited by AMO, reveals that 29 per cent of municipal spending in Ontario in 2022 went to areas of provincial responsibility. That year, municipalities across the province provided $38 billion worth of services overall, compared to $15.8 billion spent by the provincial government.

In terms of the sources of municipal revenue, the AMO review notes that in 2022, Ontario municipalities collectively raised $49 billion, “primarily from property owners and service users.” Last October, AMO issued a request for the province to undertake a comprehensive review of the arrangement, with the City of Kingston now following suit with a request of its own.

The AMO request noted the need for an “update[d]” financial partnership between the provinces and its municipalities. The association’s “key goals” included “affordability and fiscal sustainability for both orders of government,” as well as “fairness for taxpayers and affordability for residents.”

The request from AMO also stressed the need to increase the housing supply across the province, in addition to housing affordability, while also calling for more “coordinated and timely” investments into infrastructure that is “resilient to climate change.”

Considering the significant municipal spending in areas that should fall under provincial jurisdiction, Paterson’s motion drew attention to the strain the arrangement has placed on City finances. Addressing his fellow Council members on Tuesday night, the mayor described the situation as dated, saying, “The problem is we’re trying to build 21st-century cities using a 19th-century fiscal and constitutional framework.”

With the City having to direct more money and resources toward complex social issues like food security, housing, homeless services, and child care, Paterson noted municipalities across the province are being forced to fund services that would normally fall under provincial jurisdiction in other parts of the country.

The mayor added, “Ontario is the only province where cities are involved in these other services. And the issue is that the costs are going up faster than the grant dollars that we get from the province, which means we have to put more and more of our own money into this to try to sustain these services.”

Paterson also pointed out that increased municipal spending on these social services could mean the City has less money to spend on infrastructure projects such as the maintenance of public roads, parks, and facilities.

After Mayor Paterson introduced the new motion, many of his colleagues spoke in favour of the request and the need for the province to step up and help its municipalities.

Kingscourt-Rideau District Councillor Brandon Tozzo noted the City “does not have the financial capacity” to properly address the issues it’s been forced to tackle. “We need to be able to either have the resources available to meet these additional needs for housing, for mental health and addiction services, or the province needs to do more.”

Sydenham Councillor Conny Glenn noted that the new motion coincides with an upcoming campaign being launched by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), focusing on “the municipal growth framework… [We’re] going back to the table to say, ‘We need to do this differently.’ It’s long overdue that we stopped trying to fund services that we were never meant to have to fund.”

Glenn also noted the situation “starts from the top down,” adding, “The federal government downloads to the provinces, and then depending on which province you’re in, you get the luck of the draw as to which services get downloaded to the municipalities.”

While speaking in favour of the new motion, Pittsburgh Councillor Ryan Boehme questioned whether the request might “fall on deaf ears.” He remarked, “The other levels of government do not have a great track record of listening to appeals [from] municipalities, whether it comes from AMO, or FCM, or any of those.”

The new motion passed with unanimous support. With Council having voted in favour of the motion, a copy of the City’s request will now be sent to a number of provincial politicians, including Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Paul Calandra, Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy, Kingston and the Islands Member of Provincial Parliament Ted Hsu, and others.

The agenda from the February 20, 2024 meeting of Kingston City Council can be found on the City of Kingston’s council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in its entirety on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

Kingston City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month (except in July and August, when it meets once each month) at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at Kingston City Hall, 216 Ontario Street.

One thought on “Kingston Council requests ‘comprehensive’ review of provincial-municipal fiscal arrangement

  • I wish that politicians at all levels would remember that there is only one taxpayer. The money I give to the municipality has already been taxed at the federal and provincial level. Maybe if the Municipal government redu ced spending on personal projects, it wouldn’t take so much money. I personally am suffering through serious health issues thanks to a failed Healthcare system. Kingston, tighten your fiscal belt and live with it.

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