OTTAWA – The mayors of Canada’s biggest cities are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to unleash more federal resources in order to help municipal governments combat the growing problem of fentanyl overdoses.
The opioid crisis is a national emergency that can only be solved with federally co-ordinated national, provincial and municipal efforts, plus additional investment in harm reduction and treatment facilities, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told a news conference in Ottawa.
“Otherwise, the toll will be off the charts and the tragedy will unfold in these months and years ahead,” he said.
“Unless we get very clear co-ordination and leadership from the federal government to pull provinces and cities together, and significant resources to invest in treatment and supports for addictions, we’re going to see a horrific toll here.”
Ottawa has already promised a strategy to combat the growing crisis, which is routinely causing scores of deaths in Alberta and British Columbia, but the mayors tied the problem to another federal promise: money for affordable housing.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said a lack of housing is a root cause of social problems, “not a symptom of other issues like addiction and mental health.” That makes spending on social housing critical to the effort, he said.
The two issues were tied together during a closed-door meeting Friday in Ottawa where almost 20 mayors pushed Trudeau to address myriad issues in their cities.
Nenshi said the prime minister suggested the government would come close to meeting their request to have $12.6 billion set aside for housing out of the almost $22 billion available in the government’s social infrastructure fund.
The feds are also considering whether to pick up half the cost of new projects submitted under the second phase of their infrastructure program, a move municipalities endorse to give them some fiscal breathing room.
The money would help pay for new affordable housing units to reduce wait lists that sit at 10,000 in Ottawa and 3,000 in Calgary, for example, and to maintain existing units.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said his city has reached the limit of what it can spend on maintenance without any substantial contributions from the province or federal government.
The mayors also played down concerns about the pace of infrastructure spending — cash that can only leave the federal treasury once project proponents submit receipts for expenses. The parliamentary budget watchdog has found that infrastructure money budgeted for this fiscal year was flowing more slowly than anticipated.
“That money is now moving into the economy, so that is going to prepare us — as was intended by the federal government — to be ready to roll out the Phase 2 dollars in a more substantial fashion in the coming years,” said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson.
“From my point of view, it’s unfolding well and ramping up as you would expect realistically.”