The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is Failing to Serve Rural Communities

Written By Roderick Karl G. Addun, Posted on July 9, 2020

Representing 2,000 municipalities across Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) has rightfully been considered one of the most important lobby groups in the nation. However, recent years have seen the FCM pivot to advocating for urban interests (think Toronto) with programs such as re-establishing COVID-19 measures and other environmentally friendly energy projects that benefit urban communities.

Despite advocacy efforts in urban areas, the FCM has slowly neglected initiatives for rural communities, the majority of which make up the FCM’s overall membership. In a previous TNT article, we noted how the Bonnyville Municipal District (MD)’s board voted to remove the town’s membership from the FCM, as the board had come to believe that the FCM no longer represented Bonnyville and other such rural municipalities’ interests federally. The reeve for Bonnyville, Greg Sawchuck, has stated that federal legislation keeps attacking Alberta’s oil industry with federal environmental regulations, which are supposedly provincial jurisdiction.

Furthermore, Mr. Sawchuck stated that “there were more oil wells than people in Alberta.” What this means is that the once-prevalent trend of inter-provincial migration from other provinces to Alberta (because of the oil industry) in now gone due to the global oil price plunge in 2014—the effects of which are still felt in Alberta to this day—and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite rural community efforts to financially assist one another with oil royalty revenue, the steady decline of Alberta and other provinces’ oil industries make it difficult for rural communities to generate enough revenue to keep themselves independent of urban community assistance. With this in mind, the Bonnyville MD’s decision to leave the FCM can be understood as both an exercise in fairness for equal representation between urban and rural communities (which the FCM has skewed over the years given the lobby group’s recent advocacy agendas) and a necessity because of the financial strains on oil rich rural communities, which the FCM has done nothing to advocate for.

So what are the FCM’s current advocacy agendas? Among other things, it includes “changing municipality organization culture in a tangible way”, which subjectively assesses job applicant or holder competency; a “green municipal fund”, which is a $1 billion program design concerning sustainable water management, and “climate resilience and asset management”, which is basically advocating for more “green” infrastructure for municipalities. In other words, another reason to raise municipal property taxes.

Given some of the FCM’s recent advocacy agendas, one may question how these agendas help rural communities, which not only cannot afford these urban initiatives, but also do not represent said rural communites’ interests and values? Short answer: they do not. The FCM’s advocacy agendas do nothing for rural communities because despite making up the majority of FCM members, urban communities disproportionally contribute to the lobby group, affecting its policy outlook.

As Mr. Sawchuck noted in a previous TNT article, even if rural municipalities should leave the FCM, the organization’s agenda will remain urban-oriented as the lobby group will receive an even more disproportionate amount from them.

These are my thoughts on the matter: similar to any lobby group or business, the FCM will cater organizational goals to the highest bidder, which is very common among large organizations. However, since the FCM’s charter is to represent member municipalities equally regardless of being rural or urban federally no longer is the case. Hence, “he who controls the purse, controls the agenda.”

Roderick Karl G. Addun

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