In previous posts, I have tried to show that:
It’s more important than ever in the past for national governments to treat different cities differently.
It can be done.
It’s often done badly.
However, in those entries, I used examples from my research to illustrate successes and failures in national government attempts to respect community difference. In this post, I want to take a step beyond examples, and draw on Canadian experience to sketch out three approaches – policy models for multi-level governance that respects community difference. I refer to such multi-level governance as deep federalism.

One possible model is the Neighbourhood Improvement Program (NIP), a 1970s-era program that earmarked federal funds for improvement of public facilities in decaying inner city neighbourhoods. In this program, allocation of funding was made conditional upon the completion of a public participation program in the neighbourhood in which the improvements were to be undertaken. This is workable, assuming the conditions the federal government places on the program in question are sufficiently flexible to allow for programs that genuinely reflect the particular circumstances in different communities.
A program condition requiring the community, or possibly community leaders, to be consulted, does not imply that the government should do whatever is demanded of it. While it makes a great deal of sense for government programming to be suitable to local conditions, it is equally important that it be effective in meeting its objectives. There is much value in local knowledge, but it is not infallible, and should be subjected to the tests of feasibility and effectiveness that would apply to any policy proposal. It is entirely possible for administrators to draw on local wisdom without abdicating the right and obligation to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable suggestions. Governments are used to saying No to demands deemed to be unreasonable. It follows that the fear of having to listen to unreasonable demands is not a sufficient reason for failure to draw upon local knowledge.
A second policy model for multi-level governance – the one with the longest history in Canada – is the federal-provincial agreement, intended to allow for different versions of particular federal government programs in each province. That model becomes deep federalism only if the provincial government takes responsibility for securing participation in policy-making and implementation by municipal governments, community stakeholders or both, as Manitoba did in implementing the federal-provincial accord on immigration and settlement. In British Columbia responsiveness to the community regarding settlement issues did not materialize because the provincial government had other plans.
A third policy model is a federal-provincial agreement with one or more municipal governments at the table and actively involved in shaping the agreement and in its implementation. This has a longer history than most people realize. Winnipeg’s former Mayor Bill Norrie was involved in securing federal and provincial funding, in 1981, for Winnipeg’s Core Area Initiative and the program was implemented by a tri-level agency. Similarly, Winnipeg’s Forks Corporation, and its successor, the Forks-North Portage Partnership, have been governed by a board with equal representation from each of the three levels of government. Tri-level negotiations have been used in shaping other urban development agreements in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, and Vancouver.
Under the previous federal government, these precedents were carried forward. In 2005, when the federal and Ontario governments sealed the “new deal for cities and communities” – whereby gasoline tax revenues are distributed to municipalities – the signatories to the agreement specifying what funds would be made available and how they were to be spent included, not only the prime minister and the premier of Ontario, but also the mayor of Toronto and the president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. In his remarks at the signing ceremony in Richmond Hill, Prime Minister Paul Martin made it clear that he intended the event, and specifically the participation of municipal representatives, as a precedent for future federal-provincial-municipal dealings. So far, however, there is little or no evidence that the current federal government is interested in continuing to move in that direction.
In short, there is more than one way to achieve deep federalism, and there are enough examples of successful attempts to demonstrate feasibility. A challenge for the 21st Century is to build on that legacy, in order to bring communities and civil society more effectively and more completely into the process of multi-level governance, and thereby to make it possible for national programmes to be genuinely responsive to community difference, while allowing federal government policy-makers to benefit from community perspectives and knowledge.
However, although national governments themselves have much to gain from deep federalism, the reality is that there is a great deal of reluctance, among both public servants and politicians, to find ways of responding seriously to local concerns. The new deal for cities originated with an initiative of city mayors, spearheaded by the then-mayor of Winnipeg, Glen Murray, and much of the impetus for other successful ventures in deep federalism came from local leaderships or local communities. Like other ventures into more democratic governance, deep federalism is unlikely to materialize without pressure from below.
Most of the statements in this entry are documented in:
Christopher Leo, “Deep Federalism: Respecting Community Difference in National Policy.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 39:3, 2006, 481-506.
Accounts of immigration and settlement agreements in British Columbia and Manitoba will be the subject of forthcoming publications.
Other relevant sources are:
Judy Layne, “Marked for Success??? The Winnipeg Core Area Initiative’s Approach to Urban RegenerationSummer.” Canadian Journal of Regional Science 23 (2), Summer 2000.
Christopher Leo and Martine August, “National Policy and Community Initiative: Mismanaging Homelessness in a Slow Growth City.” Canadian Journal of Urban Research 15 (1) (supplement) 2006, pp. 1-21.
The concluding section of this study contains a more detailed discussion of how deep federalism can be achieved.

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