Category Archives: Multi-level governance

ARE STRONGER LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ALWAYS THE ANSWER?

In a recent issue of Plan Canada, a house organ for professional city planners, my colleague Andrew Sancton pointed out that, in the establishment of the Ontario Greenbelt, provincial government imposition produced a result that would have been much harder, or maybe impossible, to achieve through regional governance. Urban affairs columnist John Barber, writing in the Globe and Mail, cited Professor Sancton’s findings to suggest that, perhaps, old-fashioned provincial oversight over municipal government makes more sense than all that fashionable piffle about multi-level governance.
“While the hives buzz with talk of European-style ‘subsidiarity’, national urban policy and new ‘governance structures’,” Barber writes, “Prof. Sancton points out that the actual Ontario government has quietly implemented almost all the policies the quasi-constitutional reforms aim indirectly to achieve.” As a long-time, and unrepentant, purveyor of multi-level governance piffle, I guess it’s my turn to speak.

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WHY WOULD THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CUT A MONEY-MAKER?

A couple of months ago, I told the extraordinary story of how a local government tore up the federalism rule book and initiated a very promising tri-level government program for getting welfare recipients placed in good jobs. In this entry, I’d like to reflect on a curious aspect of that story that I didn’t stress in my other account: The program was a conspicuous success in its first year, but the federal government cut it even though it had actually made money on it.

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FEDERALISM DOESN’T HAVE TO BE TOP-DOWN

In Canada, the mention of federalism generally puts us in mind of federal government initiatives that are carried out in co-operation with provincial and territorial governments. Sometimes provincial initiative is also a factor, especially in recent years, since the creation of the Council of the Federation, an association of provincial and territorial premiers that aims “to play a leadership role in revitalizing the Canadian federation and building a more constructive and cooperative federal system.”
We are less likely to think in terms of municipal or community initiative, but community initiative in intergovernmental relations is a current reality, in fact one that has been with us for some time, though it remains an exception to the rule of top-down government. In the late 1960s, in the most epic of Canada’s battles over plans for urban expressways, citizens opposing the Spadina Expressway made a strategic decision to bypass Metropolitan Toronto Council and take their case to the Ontario Municipal Board and the provincial cabinet, and it was the cabinet that gave them their victory.

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PEAK OIL, SUBURBIA AND POLITICAL TIPPING POINTS

James Howard Kunstler has been telling anyone who will listen that we will, very soon, experience a shock that will force a fundamental re-thinking of how we build our cities. Kunstler is the author of Home from Nowhere and Geography of Nowhere, sharply worded polemics against modernist architecture and street design. More recently, in The Long Emergency, he has become a prophet of suburbia’s doom.
His latest argument, in a nutshell, is that, having passed into an era in which world supply of oil has entered a long decline, we face, not only sharp increases in the price of oil products, but also shortages. Once the shortages hit, we will be forced into a fundamental re-thinking of our consumption habits in general and our urban development practices in particular. Wrenching social and economic change will follow, and suburbia as we know it, as well as much of the rest of civilization as we know it, will become a thing of the past.
That’s a good way to sell books. Whether it – despite overwrought rhetoric and probably exaggerated claims – contains a kernel of sound political analysis remains to be seen. But before we dismiss Kunstler’s argument altogether, it’s worth reflecting on how quickly and easily apparently impregnable political fortresses have been known to fall in the wake of a shift of public awareness and attitude.
In my youth, I saw drunken driving, smoking in public buildings and vocal racism all flagrantly, and often boastfully, put on public display. Today, though all three are still with us, they are widely frowned upon, and strict legislation has driven them underground. “If you can’t drink and drive, how are you going to get home?” is no longer considered a funny line. In all three cases, a change in public perception was a tipping point after which legislative change came relatively easily.

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A NEO-CONSERVATIVE REVOLUTION FROM BELOW? WATCH OUT, CANADA

Winnipeg’s Sam Katz, who has been mayor since shortly after Glen Murray resigned in 2004, is worth watching. It’s not clear whether he is a fire-breathing neo-conservative or – as the Winnipeg Free Press’s astute city hall observer, Bartley Kives insists – a moderate, but lately there have been some straws in the wind, and they may herald a new direction in Canadian urban politics, one that could be emulated in other cities.
Mayor Katz (rhymes with “dates”) has set the objective of eliminating the business tax, leaving a $55 million budget hole that must be filled in ways not clearly specified. He is a shrewd, sophisticated political operator, who, so far, has commanded city council votes with apparent ease, and side-steps embarrassing questions with the finesse of a magician making a coin disappear. He is also a skilled practitioner of budget magic, as we will see.
So what does that have to do with a social revolution? Stay tuned.

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IT’S POSSIBLE TO RESPECT COMMUNITY DIFFERENCE IN NATIONAL POLICY, BUT THE GOVERNMENT NEEDS A PUSH

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.

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RAPID URBAN GROWTH, SLOW GROWTH, AND MULTI-LEVEL GOVERNANCE

Multi-level governance distinguishes itself from the traditional federal system by treating cities, and sometimes communities, as visible and significant partners in the interplay among levels of government, and not simply as the lowest level of government. The emergence of this change in the way the federal system is conceived is related to the enhanced economic and political importance of cities in a world marked by greatly increased freedom of movement for goods, people, ideas and money. In a world marked by free movement, cities become magnets for wealth and production on one hand and problems on the other. In the process their political importance is magnified.
If she were still with us, Jane Jacobs might appreciate the irony that it has taken the economic realities of globalization to force a recognition of the centrality of cities to the national economy. Long before anyone was talking about globalization, she led the way in making the case, in Cities and the Wealth of Nations, that running a country as if it constituted a single economy was a sure way to get governance wrong. And since the economy is intimately interconnected with all other areas of national life, there are many policy domains in which national uniformity is a good recipe for failure.
Each city, or at least each urban-centred region, is a different economy, and should be governed differently from other cities. I have used the term “deep federalism” to describe policy that succeeds in respecting community difference. How can we accomplish that? There is no easy way to understand community difference, no simple set of generalizations that will allow us to say that a community of type A has characteristics B, C and D, while a community of type E has another set of readily definable characteristics. If there were, there would be no need for deep federalism. The federal government could develop a different policy model for each of a finite number of well-defined community types and administer everything from the centre. But there is nothing finite about community difference.

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