“Cities have been left with constitutional arrangements, with insufficient powers, with little fiscal resilience, and with weak governance structures… They rely on the kindness of strangers. But very often these strangers, which very often are the other two levels of government, the provinces and the federal government, have different agendas and they have different priorities and they have different pressures. And this really leaves cities in the state that they have no real control over their destinies… The new deal for cities has to not be about handouts, but about taking some control of our destiny and some responsibility for it… If not, Canada will continue to pay a high price for having governmental arrangements that are so comprehensively out of step with our future challenges.”
Watch the video and read the notes below for some of Alan’s ideas, solutions and what we can learn from other jurisdictions.
(Summary notes by Jennifer Giesbrecht & Michael Wallberg)
“Every time I’ve met him, my life has changed,” said host Sam Sullivan of the next speaker, Alan Broadbent. Founder of the Maytree Foundation and Caledon Institute of Social Policy, and author of the book “Urban Nation,” this longtime advocate for poverty and immigration challenged the VUF audience to re-conceptualize the modern Canadian city.
He began by reminding everyone that one hundred and forty-five years ago, Canada was 80 percent rural. Now it’s 80 percent urban. Unlike the old days, Canada’s metropolitan areas are now responsible for the wellbeing of sizeable and diverse demographic groups — a situation that no longer suits traditional government arrangements.
According to Broadbent, the strongest evidence that the current system is extremely out of date is the gross overrepresentation of rural areas in both the federal and provincial legislatures. With representation of certain rural areas reaching an alarming ratio of 50-1, Broadbent lamented that urban issues are frequently brushed aside in current political debates, even though they require some of the most urgent attention.
Broadbent also stressed that, due to the current constitutional arrangements, cities are much too over-reliant on property taxes, a relatively inflexible revenue source that leaves them prone to economic distortions.
Another imbalance Broadbent pointed out is that Canadian cities today carry great burdens in the areas of health care, education and immigration yet enjoy none of the associated decision-making power. Broadbent stressed that, to properly support the urban population, these arrangements must change.
Although Broadbent acknowledged that new powers would also come with new and difficult obligations such as increased municipal taxation, he also described a number of success stories in Europe and the U.S. where urban communities provided overwhelming support for municipal projects. While these stories were quite inspiring, however, Broadbent still warned that if Canada does not upgrade its constitutional arrangements, these may be the very cities that leave us in their dust.