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Canadian cities 'not gatekeepers': Head of mayors' group pushes back on Poilievre

Mayors are community builders, not gatekeepers, Canada’s municipal governments said Monday as their spokesman pushed back against language Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre often uses to attack city leaders.

Scott Pearce, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, was speaking at a news conference in Ottawa ahead of the spring budget to call on the federal government for more infrastructure money.

When asked about Poilievre’s proposed housing plan, Pearce appeared to reject the Conservative leader’s oft−levelled accusation that cities are the ones standing in the way of building more homes.

"Canadian mayors are not gatekeepers, we’re community builders. And I don’t build houses, developers build houses," said Pearce. "So when the interest rates are at what they are, it’s more difficult to have builders build."

Poilievre has been riding a wave of support since the summer as he focuses his message on affordability and housing. He often rails against "gatekeepers" in cities he says are snarled in red tape, high fees and delays.

<who> Photo credit: Canadian Press

Regardless of who is in power federally, municipalities will need more infrastructure spending to ramp up home construction, said Pearce, mayor of Gore, Que.

"Whether it’s Mr. Poilievre (or) Mr. Trudeau, whoever the government is, the infrastructure funding is the most important thing if we’re going to be successful in building the 5.8 million houses we need."

The federation is open to working with all parties, added Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, the current chair of the group known as the Big City Mayors’ Caucus.

The Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corp. estimates Canada needs to build 5.8 million homes by 2030 to restore affordability, a goal that economists at CMHC have conceded will be very difficult to achieve.

Municipalities have been warning that their communities can’t build enough homes to match population growth without more money for things like water infrastructure and roads.

In his housing plan, Poilievre has promised to tie federal dollars to the rate of home building and withhold funding from cities that fail to ramp up construction by 15 per cent each year.

Meanwhile, the Liberals have taken a friendlier approach with municipalities by offering money through the housing accelerator fund in exchange for a suite of changes to local bylaws and regulations that aim to increase home construction.

Poilievre has blasted the $4−billion fund, saying that it funnels money to the same gatekeepers who are blocking home building.

The Conservative leader has also singled out mayors and municipalities for their track records on housing, a tactic that has led to friction with some local governments.

Last month, Poilievre took aim at the mayors of Quebec’s two largest cities, calling the local leaders "incompetent" and accusing them of blocking construction projects.

In response, Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand accused the Conservative leader of playing "petty politics" and expressing "contempt for elected officials (and) for all those who work on housing issues in our city."

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said Poilievre misunderstood municipal financing in Quebec.

And earlier this month, Pointe−Claire Mayor Tim Thomas hit back at Poilievre after the Tory leader accused the municipality of blocking a housing project from moving ahead.

In a post on Facebook, Thomas said, "there are some facts (Poilievre) may not be aware of," as he defended the municipality’s record on housing.

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