Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association
Building the Urban Age
It’s no coincidence that the creation of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association closely coincides with the creation of this province. This demonstration of collaborative thought reflects the two competing sprits that have driven the growth of Saskatchewan for the last century. The first is the individual spirit necessary to survive the harsh climate, and harsh realities of life in a prairie province at the turn of the century. The second is the understanding that by working together we can achieve so much more.
At the turn of the century, the local City, Town and Village governments of the day believed it was necessary to have an organization through which they could, on a collective basis, express their needs and desires for legislative and financial services, to the provincial government.
In 1906, the Union of Saskatchewan Municipalities was formed, under the leadership of Mayor Peter McAra, Jr., of the City of Regina. The name would later change to the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA).
Delegates to the founding convention identified the reasons why working collectively would benefit individual municipalities. They felt individual municipalities were too small to lobby the provincial government or to stand against the growing influence of railway and telephone companies. They recognized that different municipalities wanted different things and would present a multiplicity of requests to the government, effectively paralyzing the Province by virtue of the volume of requests. Delegates outlined three main concerns at the initial convention: the treatment of the sick, the need for hospital facilities for all the immigrants pouring into the province and the need for local control over the rapaciousness of railway and telephone companies. The inaugural convention boldly stated: “Municipal organization will be the mouthpiece of the province”.
From the beginning, municipal governments in all Canadian provinces have operated within the limitations of a serious contradiction enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. There is a political paradox within the 1867 British North America Act. Municipalities, the level of government closest to the people, the level of government seen as most democratic and transparent, do not have constitutional status and are considered “creatures of the provincial government”. However, even within that limitation, very early on municipalities would become a creative force behind tremendous changes in social, health, education and other fundamental issues affecting every citizen.
Health, education and social policy have long since become the domain of the provincial government but the fundamental challenge of the political paradox remains. The provincial government continues to play as significant role as gatekeeper when it comes to achieving positive change for municipalities.
SUMA represents the interests of municipal governments on policy and program matters within provincial jurisdiction that bear directly on them. The Association serves the needs of member councils by maintaining and improving the strength of local government.
In 1967, the Board of Directors believed that it was necessary to strengthen SUMA and to empower it to engage in activities that would enable the Association to better serve its members. An Act of the Saskatchewan Legislature was passed in April of 1967 to incorporate the Association and to vest powers which would enable it to more effectively meet its objectives.
SUMA also provides services to member communities by combining municipal service and product demands and exploring the best methods of delivering these services. These programs provide alternatives to current purchasing methods. SUMA also offers group benefits and general insurance. Other programs include:
Building Inspection Program
Education and Training
Election Materials Program
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Financing and Leasing Program
Firefighter, First Responder, Ambulance Crew Insurance
Lapel Pins Program
Municipal Rescue Services Program
Natural Gas Program
Office Products Program
Office Machines Program
Orphaned Petroleum Sites Program
SUMA Water Infrastructure Program
Street and Custom Sign Program
Workers Compensation Board Cost Audit
Membership in SUMA is voluntary and is open to cities, towns, villages, resort villages, northern villages and northern hamlets. As the Association approaches it’s one hundredth year it boasts thirteen cities, one-hundred and forty-five towns, two-hundred and fifty-two villages, thirty-one resort villages and thirty-three northern communities as members. All told, SUMA’s membership represents approximately 75% of the Saskatchewan population.
SUMA works to enhance urban life in Saskatchewan through the provision of:
Administrative and consultative services to its members; a forum for the discussion and resolution of current and emerging issues; a negotiating vehicle for improvements in provincial and federal legislation, programs and municipal financing.
Member municipalities are represented by a Board of Directors that meets frequently to review policy and program matters. An Executive Committee of the Board deals with the ongoing operation of the association. As well, the Board and Executive of SUMA promote the urban government viewpoint in many forums in Saskatchewan and across Canada.
The Association’s sources of revenue are membership fees, revenues from the Annual Convention, administration of member service programs, newsletter advertising revenues and the operation of the Group Benefits program.
100 Years of Service
Urban municipalities have been leaders in developing and lobbying for innovative public policy and programs. Here are selected highlights of what local governments have achieved through SUMA in the past 100 years:
1906 – Call for public ownership of telephone companies.
1909 – Introduce fair wage clauses in municipal contracts.
1914 – Pass bylaws to regulate fire hazards in buildings.
1915 – Organize first Union Hospital District for medical care. Provide welfare payments to families of soldiers.
1919 – Request provincial assistance to build affordable houses.
1924 – Start voluntary fund to pay for treatment of tuberculosis
1926 – Support voluntary levy to pay for high school education. Support increase in Mother’s Allowances.
1928 – Call for unemployment insurance and public ownership of utilities.
1929 – Being lobby for compulsory, universal health care system.
1932 – Call for province to take responsibility for relief costs.
1943 – Urge pay equity for women working in the war effort.
1945 – Urge minimum wage and 48-hour week. Support pensions to all people over 65.
1949 – Lobby for increased federal grants for education.
1950 – Urge provincial enforcement of support for deserted spouses.
1958 – Call for public nursing homes, and support for regional libraries.
1959 – Request establishment of regional planning districts.
1964 – Lobby to include ambulances in health service. Lobby to include employment rehabilitation in social welfare programs.
1966 – Call for recreation districts for sharing facility costs.
1970 – Lobby for industrial tax sharing.
1974 – Negotiate unconditional provincial grants to municipalities.
1978 – Negotiate provincial revenue sharing for municipalities. Lobby to maintain transportation system rural areas.
1980 – Lobby for recognition of municipal government in the Canadian Constitution.
1983 – Offer to give up revenue sharing to remove education levies.
1987 – Help establish independent property assessment agency.
1993 – Develop strategy for urban government renewal.
1994 – First multi-year Canada-Saskatchewan Infrastructure Works program established.
1995 – Recommendations from SUMA Task Force on Urban Government Renewal.
1997 – Removal of health and social service levies on the property tax base. Updated property assessment system.
1999 – Recommendations from provincial Task Force on Municipal Legislative Renewal.
2002 – Successful passage of the new Cities Act. Lobby for $20 million dollar increase to the Urban Revenue Sharing Pool.
2003 – Lobby for a portion of the provincial fuel tax.
2004 – Continuing to seek alternative revenues to reduce municipal and school dependency on property taxes.
As the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association enters its second century, municipalities are entering a new era of cooperation with senior levels of government. Cooperation that may even put an end to the long standing political paradox as Prime Minister Paul Martin seeks to strike a “New Deal” for municipalities. The “New Deal” not only includes new funding arrangements that will provide a sustainable source of revenue to help ease the burden on property taxpayers but also could include changes to the Canadian Constitution. The provincial government meantime has thawed the long frozen Urban Revenue Sharing program and has begun a dialogue with SUMA toward finding a resolution to many longstanding irritants.
More broadly, the trend towards urbanization continues. When SUMA was first formed over 80 percent of the population lived in rural areas. One-hundred years later that trend has almost reversed with close to 80 per-cent of Saskatchewan residents now living in an urban center.
It’s clear that the future will likely see further re-organization of local governments, reshaping our partnerships with senior levels of government, and a rearrangement of financial resources. As the government closest to the people it is also clear that there will always be a need for municipal governments.
However, in order to secure a healthy future we must not only reflect on our history. We must continue to make it.