Perspectives Papers | 2020

It Takes Three: Making Space for Cities in Canadian Federalism

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted pre-existing cracks in Canada’s federal structure, particularly in relation to Canada’s cities. On the one hand, cities are significant policymakers deeply involved in addressing Canada's major policy challenges. On the other, cities remain "little siblings" in Canadian federalism, often ignored or overruled by the federal government and provinces.

In this paper, Tomas Hachard highlights four challenges cities face in this context: paternalism, constrained finances, poor coordination, and fragmentation. It proposes two solutions: a clarification of the powers and responsibilities of cities, and a deepening of federal-provincial-municipal relations.

These measures, the paper argues, will not only put cities on a firmer footing, but also ensure that all governments are equipped to make and sustain the investments Canada requires for its future success. Canada will be better able to “build back better” from COVID-19, including by addressing climate change, reforming social policy, and improving health care, if the governments best able to deliver on these efforts can afford to take them on. Canada will also be better equipped to handle these challenges with better coordination and cooperation among all three orders of government.

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