Ward 9’s Kieran McKenzie on DMAF funding: Being Nice is also a Strategy

Kieran McKenzie (Kieran McKenzie) Kieran McKenzie (Kieran McKenzie)

Kieran McKenzie
City Councillor, Ward 9
City of Windsor

Editorial to Rose City Politics
March 1, 2023

Finger pointing gets us nowhere except under more water

Recently there’s been some “discussion” both around the Council Table, in the media, and some back-and-forth from political leaders about the Federal Government’s Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF). I want to say that I always support advocacy and honest and frank dialogue, but I think it’s important for community leaders to be circumspect in the way they publicly frame and characterize issues.

Empathy, a forgotten art in the world of political advocacy. Are people not more willing to cooperate with others when they trust that their challenges are understood by would-be partners?

To be clear, generally DMAF is a good program (not perfect), in that it recognizes that the Federal Government has a crucial role to play in terms of supporting resilience in communities across Canada.

Be it due to extreme weather events, fluctuating water levels, temperature spikes (in both directions); Municipalities truly are on the front lines of adapting to and mitigating climate change. The recent ice storm is another chilling reminder (lol) that we need to continue to build the community with the impacts of our environment top of mind.

Windsor has been a significant beneficiary of this program, and for good reason. No one who lived through it will ever forget the devastating flooding events (yes plural) of the recent past. Our entire region, with its flat topography and being surrounded by water, is flood prone and our infrastructure challenges continue to represent risk for everyone.

To its credit the federal government has made significant DMAF dollars available in our region – maybe more than anywhere else in Canada. Therein lies the challenge. 

It’s no secret that our economy at a macro level is changing. Historic levels of inflation are impacting literally every person, institution, organization, business, you name the stakeholder, they are impacted.

In the context of the DMAF, in our case back in 2018 we were delighted in Windsor to find out that (some – not all) of our applications for funding were approved. When you add up all the DMAF money allocated to Windsor it’s ~ $32 M. The program however is a partnership wherein the Feds are expected to provide 40% of the total costs to deliver on a specific project.

We were approved for what the City estimated would be roughly a total of $86 M of infrastructure investments again back in 2018. The timeline for delivery on these projects was 10 years. It’s important to recognize that when the City’s Administration is creating budget estimates for anything we intend to do they build in a financial buffer to address (normal) inflationary pressures as well as any other potentially unforeseen factors that could impact the project from a financial standpoint.

In this case the most recent fiscal analysis from the City’s Administration estimates the delivery costs of the DMAF approved projects have now nearly doubled.

This approach typically results in a positive economic variance for all capital works when the project costs are aggregated at the end of the fiscal year.

Our current economic climate (which would have been very challenging to predict in 2018) has changed the metrics and consequently forced everyone to re-evaluate all financial projections, including future capital works.

In the case of DMAF we have the competing pressures of proceeding with projects that are crucial while at the same time responding to a significantly altered fiscal environment.

The City is still willing to absorb the 60% it committed to (including the inflationary costs) on the DMAF infrastructure. We are asking the federal government to honour the spirit of the partnership and agree to commit to fund its (inflation adjusted) 40% share. I acknowledge the agreement does not require them to do this, and I further acknowledge that if they were to “make Windsor whole” they would be obliged to do the same for municipalities in the same position across Canada.

Here’s where I go back to the significant changes to the global economy that have changed the metrics for everyone and the need for everyone to respond to those changes appropriately.

There will be more rounds of DMAF funding made available. There are several options for the Feds to consider including creating a round of funding to address inflationary pressures being experienced by municipalities already approved for DMAF funding (and yes there are others aside from Windsor). The Federal Government could also consider extending the timeline for the implementation of the projects, although given the urgency I would suggest this is sub-optimal.

These options need to be explored. Here’s hoping we can in a cooperative and collaborative spirit work even harder addressing these issues. Climate Change impacts in our region are real and we urgently need to work together to significantly improve the resiliency of our region through these and other infrastructure projects.

Finger pointing gets us nowhere except under more water.