After launching a successful juice company and watching your city vie for the Stanley Cup, getting a few dollars out of the federal government should be easy, right? At a gathering of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Halifax this week, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was named as the new chair of the Big City Mayors Caucus. He'll represent the group as it presses the new majority government for long-term funding for some of our cities' biggest problems: from transit to homelessness and that growing infrastructure gap. Urban affairs reporter Siri Agrell spoke to him about hockey bets, federal budgets and which mayor refused to wear spandex.
What's better, having your hockey team playing for the Stanley Cup or being named chair of the Big City Mayors Caucus?
I think this year it's all about the Canucks. It's been a great week.
What are your priorities as chair?
To build a strong relationship with the federal government that leverages our past partnership on infrastructure, housing and transportation. We've just worked through several years of significant investment in cities, but we'll see 40 per cent of the core federal investments in municipalities expiring in the next 36 months. So, my priority is to protect the recent gains for cities and renew the $1.9-billion in core investments that are expiring soon.
The federal budget will be retabled on Monday. Are you hoping for more specific dollars designated to cities?
We'll see a commitment to work with cities to develop a long-term infrastructure plan. That was in the last budget and the Conservatives' campaign platform. So we expect that to be formalized. That's the key piece. Something stable that addresses our core needs.
But how do you want it to be formalized?
There are a number of tools that could be used that provide long-term funding for infrastructure. A greater share of the gas tax or a share of the GST. There's a laundry list of options.
This weekend, you'll meet with Denis Lebel, the new federal Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and former mayor of Roberval, Que. Is his background helpful to your cause?
He'll have firsthand knowledge of what our cities and communities are dealing with in aging infrastructure and the need for all orders of government to work together. So yeah, it's helpful.
Do you feel confident you'll be able to win some concessions?
I'm confident that the federal government recognizes the importance of Canadian cities to the economy. That was evident in their actions over the last few years. They made real accomplishments in terms of bridges and roads and housing. People don't always see the direct impact from federal government decisions, and the partnership with cities on stimulus funding gave lots of tangible results of tax dollars doing good work. We've been through a tough patch together and gotten a lot of work done. Now it's the excitement of birthing a new model of partnership with the federal government and raising the profile of urban issues.
Do all the mayors get along? Are there cliques?
No, nothing like that. There's always a variety of opinion that spices things up. But we share so many challenges, there's a lot of common ground that holds us all together.
Who's the chattiest?
[Calgary Mayor Naheed]Nenshi likes to talk. He's new at the table, so he's slightly more reserved than usual. But he definitely has added his voice since being elected. There's no shortage of talkers. We had all the mayors in Canucks jerseys today. Nenshi wore his reluctantly. I think he knew he was going to get in trouble in Calgary.
Any money riding on the Cup?
I've got a bet with the mayor of Boston. There's a charity donation from the loser to the winner's charity of choice. We're also getting fresh Boston lobster if we win, and they get wild B.C. smoked salmon, and we are each choosing a variety of locally brewed beer. But the bet's more about raising the winner's flag in the loser's City Hall. I was trying to negotiate that the loser had to raise the flag in a green neon bodysuit that the Green Men wear in Vancouver. But Mayor [Thomas]Menino was not keen for spandex. I guess he doesn't have full confidence in his Bruins.
People probably wouldn't mind seeing you in spandex.
I'm not going to lose this bet.