After 28 years with FCM and 13 years as CEO, Brock Carlton will be retiring. He sat down with us to reflect on his 28 years with FCM and the growth of the organization during his time at the helm.

How has FCM changed in your time as CEO?

Our membership has grown enormously. In the year 2000, we broke the one thousand membership marker. And since then, we've grown to be consistently two thousand. This has created all kinds of benefits for the organization in terms of reach, strength, influence and relevance to the country.

The other thing that's changed a lot is our level of influence. I mean, we used to write very nice reports and put them out and speak to the media. And we would have some discussions with a government department or at a political level and we had some successes. Now we point to problems and challenges, and we offer solutions.

Now we point to problems and challenges, and we offer solutions.

We now roll up our sleeves and work closely with the government to design the programs and/or policies to build solutions that are good for members.

We are now more relevant to our membership because of the issues that we deal with and because of the way we work in comparison to a decade ago. In addition, the programming has really enhanced our relevance in terms of service delivery to the members and in terms of being an effective partner with the federal government. We’re much clearer about who we are.

We do a few things—policy and government relations, program delivery and being a venue for dialogue—and we do those things very, very well.

How do you think FCM has been able to balance the dual role as an organization that lobbies the government in our advocacy work but then also partners with the government in our program work?

I think we've managed this delicate balance really well. We’ve been very careful about aligning the programming content with our policy work. When we've had to, we’ve used our government relations work to call the government to account as, that takes priority. When we have had to, we’ve been very clear about what we are doing and saying, and why. We are very careful about our public statements and we make sure the bureaucratic and political sides know our positions and concerns.

If you had to list some of your proudest accomplishments in your time as CEO or at FCM, what would they be?

There are many moments of pride. I feel great pride when I hear people say how much people love working at FCM.

I have worked hard, as have many others, to develop a place that people find so satisfying, that they're happy in their work experience and that they feel like they're influencing, making a difference. That's really important for me—that sense of job satisfaction is a real highlight for me.

I feel great pride when I hear people say how much people love working at FCM.

Another point of pride is the satisfaction that members get from being engaged in FCM. Anybody who's paid membership fees has benefitted from our work. But the level of engagement, the level of commitment to the organization has really gone up in the last many years. Just look at the current situation. We've increased our membership fee 30 percent and have over 97 percent retention rate in our membership.

Then there are results like the Gas Tax Fund and the Economic Action Plan, the infrastructure, and transit money in the recent federal budgets. Obviously, the billion-dollar investment in the Municipal Asset Management Program (MAMP) and the Green Municipal Fund (GMF) in 2019 was a huge moment of pride for me and for everybody in the organization. And one cannot forget that we had a major influence of this government’s National Housing Strategy.

I am also proud of the moment in 2003 at the Africities conference in Yaoundé, Cameroon. The conference involved 2,300 participants from 67 countries. The focus was on urban development in Africa. FCM received the award for "Outstanding Partner in Decentralized Cooperation,” the only non-African organization to receive an award. This was recognition of our municipal partnership program and the effective work we were doing across Africa. I remember giving an acceptance speech about municipal solidarity to a very hot room jammed with people sitting and standing everywhere. This was before becoming CEO, but it was definitely a highlight.

But it's not always just the big stuff that matters. I remember being at a meeting in Manitoba and a mayor stood up and said, “I'm from the smallest town in Manitoba and I love the work you guys are doing on our municipal-First Nations community relationship.” The fact that a small town mayor in Manitoba would stand up and say, I really like working with this organization because you're doing something really important for me in my small corner of Canada on my relationship with the neighbouring First Nations community—that was a moment of great pride.

Left to right: Don, Brock, Carole

In your time as CEO, how do you see the challenges having changed or stayed the same for municipalities in Canada? What were the biggest challenges then that they were facing? And what about now?

The fundamental thing that is challenging the membership relates to the demographic shifts, the growing movement of people into urban areas. This shifting of the demographics leads to the challenges of maintaining the economic viability and vibrancy of rural communities as people move into cities. And then for cities, having the challenge of providing services at affordable cost to citizens.

In addition, I think the biggest challenge is that the intergovernmental framework and the fiscal framework haven’t kept up with the evolution of the position and role of cities and towns in the country. Municipalities are constantly and seriously under-resourced and under-represented at the tables where decisions are made.

I think the biggest challenge is that the intergovernmental framework and the fiscal framework haven’t kept up with the evolution of the position and role of cities and towns in the country.

The current COVID-19 crisis shows the inadequacies of the political framework Canada when municipalities aren't at the table. Municipalities are integral to health and well-being of communities. The growing role of cities in the country is not being mirrored in a growing voice in the political dialogue and in the economic decisions that are being made for them, instead of with them. The moral suasion and reality of this argument is gaining ground, but the structures and systems are not up to date. We've made great strides that have FCM getting that message out there and being part of those conversations. There is more to do.

What do you see as the greatest achievement of FCM programs during your time with our organization?

The whole range of the programming we do is impacting people's lives. Whether it’s our international programming, women's programming or the ongoing evolution of First Nations-municipal relations.

And then of course there was last year’s billion-dollar investment in MAMP and the Green Municipal Fund. GMF was just a creative idea back in 2000. FCM designed GMF in a way that was really creative and stimulated both innovation and environmental sustainability. It was a really important step.

The whole range of the programming we do is impacting people's lives. Whether it’s our international programming, women's programming or the ongoing evolution of First Nations-municipal relations.

Last year’s massive investment was partly an acknowledgement of an enormous amount of history and effectiveness and program delivery all across the board. It was an important affirmation of that quality and confidence, but it was also a test. At least I see it as a test. To see if FCM can really manage that kind of volume and deliver quality work that is consistent with federal interest in reaching into communities. I have no hesitation about the fact that we will succeed in this task. But the reason I say it's a test is because I think there are a lot more opportunities ahead. I believe that as we roll this out, it will become more and more clear that we're successful, efficient, effective and results oriented. That is going to set a new marker of opportunity for FCM.

So, if you could offer any sort of parting wishes to Carole Saab as the new CEO and to FCM as an organization, what would you say?

First off, and this may sound bureaucratic, but the strategic plan that we developed recently is saying this is where the organization needs to take the country. And I mean it that way. I think that the future is defined in that document. There are some features in the strategic plan such as expanding our partnership in a real way with the federal government. There's realigning the fiscal framework. There is expanded program delivery. But there's also a renewed and enhanced spotlight on our role as a venue for municipalities to talk to each other, and for us to shape the agenda that we're driving.

There are two things that have just very recently shown the legitimacy and the value of this focus on FCM as a venue. Look at the website and you will see the COVID-19 section, where people can add information and questions and share and learn from each other.

And the second example is Western Economic Solutions Task Force. That is exactly what was envisioned when this notion of a venue became more enhanced in our thinking going forward. It's a venue for the western members to talk amongst themselves and talk to us so that we better understand their needs, better build their trust in us and this helps us understand how to wrap their needs into our broader policy frameworks. The notion of venue is a really important dimension going forward for FCM. That I think will be really key in helping build our future and build our influence in the country.

Two more things for Carole: Let's never underestimate the importance of the culture we have built: cherish it and live it so everyone sees that you embody that culture. And remember: you talk to the Prime Minister, decision-makers, leaders and people of influence in this country. What is important is why: you are shaping their thinking and decision-making in service of communities and in service of making things better for people who have no voice.

Do you have anything else you want to add?

I have just loved the last 13 years and 28 with FCM. I loved being CEO of this organization. It's been a remarkably rewarding experience. I am leaving the chair, but not the passion for the organization and what it stands for. Although we are walking separate paths now, we all have been forever changed by the experience of the past 13 years, and for that, I am forever grateful.

© 2020 Federation of Canadian Municipalities