State of Canada’s Cities Summit: A Shared Challenge
The challenges that cities face in Canada and the United States have many similarities. But our federal governments are responding quite differently. Hear from Marion Mollegen McFadden, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Community Planning and Development at HUD, and Bruce Katz, CEO at The New Localism who bring the American perspective, joined by former Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on the Canadian perspective, to discuss our Shared Challenges.
Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org with “transcription” in the subject line.
Mary W Rowe My name is Mary Rowe, I’m the chief cook and bottle washer at the Canadian Urban Institute. I’m actually up here for this one because I’m keen to engage our colleagues here. I’m a dual citizen. I lived in the U.S. for a number of years and I had the benefit of working in different environments there and then came back to Canada to actually take a job with Premier Wynne. And that’s what brought me back. And I, during that tenure, got a chance to be exposed to the American system and to get a chance to work with my two colleagues here who come to join us. But I’m going to ask Marion first and maybe just introduce yourself and indicate what your role is. Because remember, Canadians don’t know what that is. And similarly, Bruce, if you could do the same. Marion you’ll go first, then Bruce, and then Naheed we’ll come to you and then we’ll go to the crowd. And in this case, you’re going to bring that little piece of cue card right up to me here. And I also just want to say thank you for all those cards … those questions (Sorry about those of you that are over on the edge) – those questions, we’re going to feed them all through the day because there’s many sessions where a lot of the topics people raise that didn’t get covered this morning. We can feed into session during the day. So keep your cards coming. Marion …
Marion Mollegen McFadden Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Mary. My name is Marion McFadden. I am the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Mary W Rowe It’s a hell of a business card.
Naheed Nenshi Does that fit on your nametag?
Marion Mollegen McFadden It really doesn’t.
Naheed Nenshi I think it means she’s really important.
Marion Mollegen McFadden I don’t know about that, but it does mean that I’m responsible for grants and loans and loan guarantees for housing, community development, infrastructure, economic development and addressing homelessness.
Mary W Rowe Give people a scale. What’s HUD’s budget?
Marion Mollegen McFadden HUD’s budget is generally around $60 billion. My office generally has around $12 billion. But the tail wagging the dog for us is disaster recovery funding. So we’ve had a portfolio of about $100 billion in long term disaster recovery funding, which surprises even Americans because they think about our FEMA doing emergency response. But we support the long-term rebuilding primarily for people of modest means.
Mary W Rowe And people heard that that’s a B … Hundred billion. And where is the federal deputy? I was going to ask. I just she’s scooted off …What’s your budget? All in … 10 billion. 10 billion? Well, we’re a 10th the size of the US. You’ve got a $10 billion budget. She’s got a $100 billion budget. Okay. Okay, Go ahead, Bruce.
Bruce Katz Bruce Katz. I run a finance lab at Drexel University in Philadelphia, used to be with the Brookings Institution in a prior life. I was Chief of Staff at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But most of what I focus on today, which I’ll talk about, is the restructuring of national economies, advanced industry reshoring, decarbonization and the effect on cities and metropolitan areas.
Mary W Rowe And Naheed, just introduced yourself, the man who may not need an introduction, but tell people.
Naheed Nenshi Sure. I’m not Naheed Nenshi, I was the Mayor of Calgary for way too long. And these days, I spend my time thinking about issues around how we rebuild community, how we build community together. As many of you know, I happen to know a lot about natural disaster recovery. I always say that at every single state of emergency that the city of Calgary declared in its 136-year history, I was lucky enough to be the mayor for. Correlation does not infer causation. But I also spent a lot of my time these days talking about restructuring of economies, decarbonization and all that. So I’m looking forward to a great discussion.
Mary W Rowe Thank you for joining us. So, Marion, we’re going to start with you to give us the big picture about what are you waking up every morning thinking about? What are the priorities that you’re trying to deliver on? Give folks a sense of the scale of challenge that you’re facing and the interventions you’re taking.
Marion Mollegen McFadden Sure. So the first point I would make after listening to the last panel is that the lion’s share of affordable housing in the United States is stimulated by the low-income housing tax credit. So government grants are coming on top of an incentive for the private sector to get tax credits for making these investments. However, we need to continue to provide funding for most of those properties so that the lowest income people can reach them. So I wake up every day thinking about housing supply, thinking about how we’re going to ensure that we’re addressing climate change in communities. That’s something we’re thinking about across the entirety of the federal government starting at the White House, because it is urgent. And specifically, I wake up every single day thinking about how we can address homelessness with the urgency that it requires. Because in the United States, we have been working very, very, very hard since around 2012 to try to end homelessness. And we’ve just started to see the numbers tick back up, which is absolutely heartbreaking. And we attribute that to many factors, including the end of some Covid subsidies, not totally timed to the end of when individuals and families need those.
Mary W Rowe So we’re having a similar kind of phenomenon here. Tell us specifically what the kinds of interventions the HUD’s been experimenting with through your program.
Marion Mollegen McFadden Sure. So for the first time this year, this administration, under President Biden and Secretary Fudge, we put out $486 million for homelessness grants, for explicitly rural homelessness and people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. So encampments, living on streets and bridges and cars, etc. And we paired those with vouchers so that we could ensure long term success in those communities. That’s not a …
Mary W Rowe Just explain to people what a voucher is. We don’t have voucher system here. So …
Marion Mollegen McFadden Okay, great. So the largest part of HUD’s budget actually goes to pay for vouchers, and that’s making up the difference between what an individual or family can afford, meaning 30% of their income and what rent in a private apartment actually costs. And so we are making up that difference so that people can live in all kinds of neighborhoods, all over the United States.
Mary W Rowe and the person gets the money.
Marion Mollegen McFadden The person gets the voucher. The landlord gets the money.
Mary W Rowe Right. But the person has agency with how they spend the voucher.
Marion Mollegen McFadden That’s correct.
Mary W Rowe Okay. Okay. Any other particular programs you want to highlight?
Marion Mollegen McFadden So we’ve got an issue of aging housing and stock all across the United States. And for the first time, our Congress pointed us at the needs of manufactured housing. So we have been kind of blind, I think, as a department to the importance of manufactured housing, formerly known as mobile homes or trailers, but that have been updated with modern building practices. We’ve been blind to their unique needs. And so when we provide formula funds to states, to cities and counties all over the country. So around 6 billion coming through my office through these formula programs, we haven’t specifically pointed them at manufactured housing communities. And we see multiple problems there with homes that were built in the 70s just being beyond repair, needing complete replacement with issues with infrastructure. So we had a lot of mom and pop kind of communities where mom and pop are ready to retire. And so they are selling properties which are now being purchased by corporations who are making a lot of improvements, but then skyrocketing rents. And we don’t necessarily have protections at the state or local level for people who live in manufactured housing. So in some places, we find people would have more protection if they rented an apartment or they owned a stick-built home than they have living in a manufactured housing unit where it’s more like the right you would have for owning a shed or a car.
Mary W Rowe Do you have a sense of the distribution of your resources to dense urban environments versus smaller communities in rural communities? Because HUD’s … you scope it all.
Marion Mollegen McFadden Yes, roughly 70% towards urban areas.
Mary W Rowe Really? Yeah. Mm hmm. And the balance is to other communities. And just one quick question for you about the relationship between HUD and state governments.
Marion Mollegen McFadden Yes. So we are a clearinghouse for funding. We are not a builder as the federal government. We’re not building things. We provide mortgage insurance and other things for the private market. And then we provide flexible grants based on formulas to states, cities and counties all over the country. And, you know, rooted in the principles of federalism, we say here that list of eligible activities, it’s kind of like I don’t know if it’s saying it’s a menu you can choose from or it’s just a bag of groceries. But then all of those choices get made at the state and local level of how to spend the funds. We require a citizen engagement process so that the people actually give feedback to their elected officials on how the funds are spent. But as long as a community proposes activities that are on the list of what’s okay, we don’t say yes or no to them, we just say, okay, you’re through.
Mary W Rowe And the list that’s okay is determined. By whom?
Marion Mollegen McFadden By the department, by Congress. So we have programs that will do new housing construction for rental housing, for individual homeowner units, for rehabilitation, for conversion from a nonresidential property to a residential property, things like that. But we don’t say to any specific community, “oh, you don’t have enough rental, you need to build rental”.
Mary W Rowe So the decision is left with them. They set their own priorities. Mm hmm. And you’re up there with …
Marion Mollegen McFadden We’ve got all the cash. Well, not all the cash … we can get to that.
Mary W Rowe It’s early in the day for us to not make sure that we, of course, quote the famous Hazel McCallion statement in Canada that you probably know this better than I do Naheed – “In Canada, the government of Canada has all the money, the provinces have all the power and the municipalities have all the problems. So it’s … and we always get people who sort of look to the U.S. and think it’s better there, that the power is organized differently and in a better way. What do you think?
Marion Mollegen McFadden I have no comment on whether it’s better there or whether you should change your Constitution or what you should do. No, but we do provide funding directly to localities. So communities of any size, considerable size, get their funding directly from us. So cities, suburbs, are getting their money directly from us.
Mary W Rowe It does not go through the state.
Marion Mollegen McFadden So 1,235 communities get their money directly from us and then the states get the funding for all the other communities that didn’t get their own. So truly, the federal government is going to the cities with funding.
Mary W Rowe Just looking to see if the deputy is taking notes. Yeah. She’s taking it down. Yeah. Okay.
Marion Mollegen McFadden And then for the homeless programs, we actually do a competitive system for what we call continuums of care, which are assembled locally. And they may be headed by the city or the Public Housing Authority or a nonprofit organization, and they organize themselves locally to come in for funding.
Mary W Rowe Okay, great. Okay, Bruce, give us your … We appreciate Marion’s big, broad perspective. You have, you’re a fellow at CUI. You’ve had lots of exposure to various Canadian cities over the last couple of years. Have at it. Tell us what you’re seeing. We titled this session A Shared Challenge because Naheed will come and echo that because he works across both boarders too … Is that we feel like this is a continental challenge. Like this is not just where … Canada is not alone in this. Go ahead.
Bruce Katz So the word the phrase we use in the United States for our national government is that it’s a health care company with an army. So you can get a sense of how our world works. I want to go back to the last panel, because this country needs an economic strategy and the United States has one. And you’re our biggest you know, we are your biggest trading partner. Our biggest trading partner is Mexico. I … what is happening right now in the US is we are looking at a changed global economic order because of geopolitical tensions with China, what’s happening with Russia in the Ukraine, what’s happening in the Middle East, the specter of Iran. Right. Transnational threats like climate. Technological advances like Generative A.I. and beyond. And then the way we’re responding under President Biden and the Congress is with unprecedented federal spending to essentially rebuild and build a different kind of economy. So starting with the bipartisan infrastructure law, Chips and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, which is essentially a climate bill. But, you know, to get it through, you have to call it the Inflation Reduction Act. You’ve got to love the U.S.. And then our Department of Defense Appropriations, which will now hit about $1 trillion a year. Okay. So what the U.S. is doing right now, which deeply affects you, but also affects your cities and your metropolitan areas, is we are re militarizing, reshoring and decarbonize it. Don’t try this at home. It’s really hard to do. And we’re doing it with hundreds of programs, grants, loans, tax incentives, procurement. Our economy is changing. And what’s happening is because of the effects of the pandemic and the effects of remote work and the effect of central business districts in cities, former high-flying cities like San Francisco, a whole bunch of other cities are beginning to rise up because they see this restructuring of our economy and they are staking their claim in it. So as we’re remilitarize places like St Louis, which essentially is a military metro, Boeing, Scott Air Force Base, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. They’re getting major investments from our Department of Defense, and they’re putting up a good portion of it into low income disinvested communities. Very interesting. All right. If you think about new technology hubs, semiconductors, Phoenix, Arizona, Columbus, Ohio, Syracuse in upstate New York, these are not … we don’t think about them as the high-flying tech hubs. They are the new tech hubs. When you build the next generation semiconductors, that’s 25 years of growth that we’re talking about, climate first movers. I mean, we’re seeing whole portions of the US because of renewable energy. They’re not thinking about just putting solar on homes. They want to be the inventors. They want to be the producers of this stuff. And then new trading powerhouses like El Paso and Texas, because they’re on the border with Juarez, Mexico, and Mexico is benefiting dramatically from the reshoring of production in the US. So my sense, you know, if you don’t have an economic strategy, you better damn well get one really soon, both at your national level and in your major cities and metropolitan areas, because that’s what’s happening in the U.S. right now. And all these other issues … municipal tax, housing, etc., etc., will be fundamentally affected by the strength of your economy and your ability to participate in a new global economic order. Because we’re not going back. You know, we spent decades offshoring, outsourcing. We are not going back. We are going to essentially begin to produce more of the sensitive technologies at home as a national security imperative, and that includes climate. So I think we’re in a different world today, frankly, and it’s happening really fast. And because of President Biden, I mean, I really just want to give the credit where credit is due. The US is adapting fast, but we have an election a year from now. God knows what the hell is going to happen. But if we can just if we can continue the current regime and the current focus, I think the US is going to be damn strong with an economy that works for a much larger group of people and a much larger group of places. So that’s at least my starting proposition.
Mary W Rowe I have a story. Marion, do you want to chime in on and add in anything from the government’s perspective? And then I’m going to come to Naheed – we’re going to see if Marion wants to comment and then I’m coming to you. You go ahead. Go ahead.
Marion Mollegen McFadden Sure. So I think historically, we haven’t been the best at stimulating economic development through federal government investments. And I think with the Chips Act, that’s really changing. And so as that funding starts to get absorbed by communities, we are going to see people feeling much stronger about the economy. But right now, people aren’t feeling great, right? We’ve had a lot of inflation. We’ve had challenges with skyrocketing housing costs, costs of other household expenses. So really that challenge of the next year to get that … Get to a point where people feel that investment touching their lives.
Mary W Rowe Right. Okay. Naheed …
Naheed Nenshi You know, I can’t really disagree with anything that we’ve heard from our visitors. Thank you for being here. So I will say that I am considerably more skeptical than Bruce about the success of the potential economic strategy because of the political instability and, frankly, the fiscal fragility. It’s all borrowed money that is making all of this happen. Maybe I can back up just a little bit. [French sentence here] …
Naheed Nenshi I won’t go on much longer that way. …
Translator But I remain optimistic. It’s difficult nowadays to be optimistic. But I’m the optimist of the day.
Naheed Nenshi I’ll suggest that the reason that we’re… This conversation is so fraught that we’re having this conversation right now is that in my mind, there’s a lot going on. And I think Bruce is very right when he says for us to focus on taxation, even on housing and on infrastructure, these are critical issues we need to focus on. But I think we need to put them into the frame of what’s going on in the world. And I would suggest that I am perhaps even more pessimistic than we heard Bruce say, because I have been spending the last couple of years trying to convince people that we are in the midst of six complementary crises right now that are hitting us all at the same time. Any one of which could completely destroy our civilization. It’s a really pleasant thought for a lovely morning in Ottawa. The six things in my mind are … what we learned or failed to learn from the pandemic and continuing public health crises. We’ve decided to plug our ears and close our eyes and pretend the pandemic didn’t happen. Ensuring we’re not ready for the next one. A continuing crisis in mental health and addiction that goes beyond the headlines and the social disorder we’re seeing on the streets of every North American city. It goes beyond drug poisoning and really goes deeply into the fact that 1 in 4 of us are going to be formally diagnosed in our lifetimes with mental illness, and four out of four of us will struggle with our mental health. For me, that usually happens in the second hour of any conversation with Mary [laughter] But we need to address this in a very new and very different way. It’s not just about supervised consumption sites and rehab beds for people suffering from addiction. It’s about creating a mentally healthy society that we just don’t have now. The third is economic inequity and economic justice. The rates of wealth inequity in our community are higher than they’ve ever been. When I started talking about this, I said they were higher than any time since the Gilded Age, since the time of the Carnegies and Rockefellers. They’re higher now than they were then. Society cannot continue stable if this is going on. And the biggest example of that, the one we’re talking about endlessly, is housing. And I’d love to talk more about housing if we get the chance, but that’s just one symptom of general economic unease. If people were super wealthy, it didn’t matter how much houses cost. But the issue is some of us are super wealthy and a whole bunch of us aren’t. The fourth, of course, is the environmental crisis. I come from Alberta. You’ll never find a larger proponent of clean, safe, reliable energy as being the most powerful poverty fighting tool we have. And how Canada has a role to play in that. But we also must understand there is a climate budget and we’re running up against it and we’ve wasted far too much time and the final one … well the fifth one, there is a sixth one, but the fifth one that many of us are facing in our communities every day is a real reckoning on the issue of equity. We’re very smug in Canada about diversity and pluralism and multiculturalism and how proud we are of it. And if I had been asked the question that Janice asked, I would have answered it exactly the same way as Brian Bowman answered it. That the diversity in our cities is a huge asset for us all, but there’s a difference between diversity and pluralism and true anti-racism. There’s a difference between reconciliation and reconciliaction. There’s a difference between tolerance for LGBTQ people and everyone being able to live a life of dignity, particularly our trans-families. So we have to be able to get there. By the way, the sixth one is international geopolitics and the brink of the Third World War and nuclear war at any moment. But I don’t know anything about that. So I stick with the first five. But in any case, my point being that there’s a lot going on. So why do I remain optimistic? I remain optimistic because I actually believe the fact that all of this is hitting us at once, and in particular the pandemic, upending our ideas of how society works and how our communities work, mean that we live in an unprecedented moment of creativity. So President Biden’s administration has grabbed that moment of creativity by saying, this is our chance to completely reshape the economy. The federal government here in Canada, for all its foibles, appears to be saying this moment of creativity is a moment for us to really reshape how we think about climate and the environment. And so the question for us at the municipal order of government is to really think about how do we grab this moment of creativity? Sometimes I call it a wet clay moment, a moment where we get to mold the future. But to think about wet clay is it gets hard. And once it hardens, you can’t mold it without breaking it. So we have a window right now to get this right. And I think our objective and our goal has to be to be super creative, to look at the best examples from around the world, including some of the wonderful things happening at HUD and in the U.S. and figure out how we craft a completely different society moving forward. And I just hope that we’re up to the challenge.
Mary W Rowe So Naheed what would your response be to … I mean, Bruce just gave a very robust pitch for … And it came out of the previous panel about – what’s the economic strategy? What’s your response to that? I mean, it seems to me in Canada, we’ve had an economy that was fairly narrowly cast for years, and over time we’ve become quite more diverse in terms of how we generate wealth …
Naheed Nenshi Not really … and this is what I love to say when I’m here in Ottawa and when I’m traveling across the country. Our economy is based entirely on the thing we wish it wasn’t based on. Right. Our number one export in the country by far is …
Mary W Rowe Oil
Naheed Nenshi Oil. If Alberta isn’t firing on all cylinders, the federal government never, ever balances its books. And we managed to create an economic strategy where we have a very, very valuable resource. It has only one customer. That’s what the debates about pipelines are actually about. All of Canada’s oil exports go only to the United States. And we also very brightly exported our technology and our knowhow to the United States to the point where the United States took the technology and know-how. Learned to do fracking, learn to do shale extraction, and now exports oil. So our only customer has become our largest competitor. And this is precisely because we pretended that this wasn’t an important part of our economy. So, yes, it is time to recast how we think about things, even though the word in Alberta is dirty. It is time to talk about transition. But the transition has to be a transition that acknowledges the fact that we can’t turn off the taps. We can’t lose those jobs. We cannot lose that income and that wealth, and that prosperity. And so people keep asking me, how would I solve this economic climate conundrum, we’ve got – this fight between my province and the federal government. And I’ve been saying lately and, you know, I’m a very calm, very nice person. Right, Mary?
Mary W Rowe Absolutely.
Naheed Nenshi And I’ve been saying lately that my number one dream, if I had a magic wand, would be to take our federal environment minister and my premier and put them in a room together, turn off the lights, punch them both in the throat so they can never talk again and get on with the work.
Mary W Rowe Charming. It’s a charming approach.
Naheed Nenshi I think it’ll work. But I’m being quite serious here. If we can agree on a few things. [Yeah]. Prosperity is important. People should have prosperity. Part of prosperity that is critical is immigration and making sure we’ve got people here to do the jobs. We must be net zero by 2050. To get there, we have to have targets on the way. We can’t wake up in 2049 and say net zero next year. Those targets must be stretch goals. They must be hard to achieve, but they must be flexible recognizing the reality of the world. They cannot be made in a vacuum with arbitrary deadlines. I don’t think there’s a single person in the country who would disagree with those six propositions. If we can start there, then I think we can use the very Canadian common sense to just figure out how to get there. And that might be naive, but I think that’s where we are.
Mary W Rowe It might be a healthy and optimistic naivete. And we have several former mayors who are from Western cities. I’m looking to see where Don is. I know he’s your … Hi, Don. So we have the former mayor of Edmonton, the former mayor of Calgary, Brian’s, the former mayor of Winnipeg. And this bifurcation or this, it’s not even a bifurcation, but this significant conversation about how do we transition the economy from one set of things to a whole bunch of other things. I know is on the minds of everybody here who does local economic development, tries to strengthen Main Street, strives to strengthen neighborhoods. I’m interested from Marion and Bruce’s point of view. You can hear … How do you avoid the siloed conversation – you’re in HUD, Bruce is ranting on about economics. How engaged can you be in the future of the economic strategy? Are you? Is HUD, does the secretary sit at those tables?
Marion Mollegen McFadden Absolutely, right, so we have multiple agencies providing funding for the same kinds of things. Right. So you ask the question about what’s our split of funding for housing? Well, let’s not mention that we have a United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Housing Service also providing housing. But this makes opportunities for us to sit down and create interagency discussions around where our money’s going, why and how we can find opportunities for collaboration, but also in providing the funding for the municipalities and the states, we have dialogs, right? We have their attention because we have the money. We’re not compelling them to do a certain thing with their formula funds, but we also have these unique opportunities to create competition.
Mary W Rowe You use your convening power. Okay? So talk about politicians …
Marion Mollegen McFadden We use our convening power. So we have an Office of Policy Development and Research, which routinely brings together all kinds of people for a presentation of research, whether done by federal government contract or by others. And just kind of conversations like this one about where should we be going without compelling results necessarily. But we also have funding that we put out through competition. So we just did $85 million that we put on the street for pro housing grants. And this is to reward jurisdictions that have already taken some steps to address their housing challenges, to revise their plans or tell us what their obstacles are and take it to the next level.
Mary W Rowe So you’re incentivizing a certain kind of … Is it working.
Marion Mollegen McFadden Incentivizing a certain kind of behaviors … Well, we got a ton of applications for the $85 million. We hope it will turn into something annual. But in doing these competitions, we incentivize partnerships at the state and local level, right? So we want to say don’t just come in with your housing authority or your community development department, work with community organizations, work with religious organizations, work with community development, financial institutions, which are kind of our good guy banks … work, you know, with whoever the leaders are in your community to strengthen your application to come in. And we give points for partnerships in our competitions.
Mary W Rowe When you look at … when you hear what Naheed is talking about the six challenges and the … we’ve had an economy that’s been fairly not very diverse, I would say … I’m looking to see where Premier Wynne is. But, you know, Ontario’s oil is automotive.
Naheed Nenshi and by the way, the car manufacturing sector in Ontario that we hear so much about, I think we’re up to $10 billion in subsidies for these and battery plants. It’s about, in terms of jobs between … getting my decimals confused … It’s either 1/100 or 1/1000 of the jobs of the energy sector in Canada. That usually shocks people in Ontario when I say that …
Mary W Rowe That billions is going towards. Right. So in terms of this, you know, you always I always have to say to my American friends, just remember, we’re a 10th your size. Although you did say to me last night … you’re the size of a California. Right. And California does all sorts of interesting things. They are able to do it. So as you look at merging these conversations and talking about the challenges you have on the ground, the challenges we have on the ground, are there ways that we could leverage the binational relationship more? How could we accelerate learning better? Could we accelerate … We already trade? We do a lot of money back and forth. What else?
Bruce Katz Yeah. I think what really matters is to have a different perspective at the starting point around what is a city or what is a metropolitan area. I think in the U.S. we don’t think about cities as governments. We think of them as networks. So you have a public sector and they have critical roles, but you also have, as corporate players, financial institutions, universities, hospitals, philanthropies, yada, yada, yada. Right. And that’s why the US experiment, because what we’re doing with this transition is an experiment. I mean, really, the federal government basically runs up to a fence, throws a shitload of money over and runs in the opposite direction and figures, well, the country will figure it out because we’re smart, we’re the US, we’re number one, right? I mean, that’s how we think about the world. And but it’s a network system. Mm hmm. And I and I do think what’s happening right now, given different cities and metropolitan areas, different parts of the networks are standing up and saying, “hey, yeah, we’ll lead on that. You lead on this, you’ll lead on something else. In the end, we’ll put it back together and hopefully it adds up to two plus two equals five”. But I do think, you know, you’re our trading partner, right? You’re our friend. You’re our ally. Near shoring is real in this post economic order. And I think we should be finding multiple ways for these different networks to begin to engage, because this transition from an energy industrial complex that did, you know, dirty stuff to one that’s going to be clean, we face the same thing. I mean, we’re … you know …
Mary W Rowe Naheed, can we talk a bit about what Bruce is observing? Because I’ve had that experience as well. That city in Canada means Capital C, city, municipal versus in the US. It doesn’t. City is the place. It’s a whole bunch of things. You, you and your work have been trying and all your colleagues have been trying to build these regional coalitions. It’s hard. It seems harder to get the other sectors to step up and say we’re important, too. They want to just sort of let you do it.
Naheed Nenshi Yes. And John will have a lot to say about regional cooperation, I think he’s on the next panel and he knows way more about that than I do. But in terms of Multisectoral approaches, this is really critical. So I’ll give you one simple example, actually two. So the first one is in Calgary, in my final term as mayor, we crafted Canada’s first community-based action plan on mental health and addiction. And I got a lot of flak for convening that and throwing some seed money on the table about it. And my successor got a lot of flak last week for permanently funding the strategy from city resources because people said, well, that’s a provincial responsibility, that’s a federal responsibility. But the problem was people were dying on the street every day, and it’s just one taxpayer. And we always use that argument to say the city shouldn’t be asking for money. But at the end of the day, if you’re paying your money to the province with all of its waste in bureaucracy or you’re paying it to the city, who’s actually going to do something with it. You’re still paying the money. And so I applaud my successor for actually taking the, even though it let the province off the hook, that’s true – for taking the initiative to do it.
Mary W Rowe But during the pandemic we had to do this all the time. We didn’t wait for …
Naheed Nenshi Exactly. And what we were able to do is, on that strategy, is we convened the health care system. We convened private sector. We convened the different orders of government and science fundamentally to come together and talk about these issues. And what was interesting about that is on my round table, I put a couple of corporate CEOs largely because I wanted their brand value, but I also thought they might give us money, you know, in the end. In reality, the corporate CEOs did more with the implementation of that plan than anyone else did because they realize the importance of mentally safe workplaces. So they went off and worked with other CEOs to figure out how to create a whole different way of going to work, which forms a part of the strategy. And so that was an unexpected benefit from being able to convene folks. Now, something interesting is going on, and I’m looking straight at the deputy and we’ve already talked about this, so she knows what I’m going to say. But when we talk about the new vigor with which she and her department and her minister are attacking the issue of housing, I applaud it. I think it’s great. Normally, if I were mayor, I’d say, hey, quit being a bully. But I actually think Minister Fraser is being very thoughtful in how he is being a bully with cities and provinces to make this work. But there’s a problem. And the problem is that because the federal government is for once moving forward and getting stuff done. They risk leaving the real experts in this area who are the people at the cities and the home builders like Alkarim, who you’ll hear from later today, behind. And so my huge concern is that the cities now have the National Housing Strategy, because it’s not convening, particularly municipal government experts in this area, might be 1 or 2 degrees off of what we need. So we’re still moving in the right direction. But if you’re two degrees off and you keep going, you’re going to end up in a kind of a different place. So what I’m worried about, I’ll just bell the cat on this. What I’m worried about is that this laser focus on increasing the supply of housing, which is something we have not talked about in a long, long time, actually is running a very significant risk of increasing the supply of unaffordable, unsustainable and sprawling housing. Right. Because you need the regulations behind that to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s an easy fix. And I’m not being critical. It’s an easy fix. Right. It has to do with pressuring the provinces, using the power of the purse to institute things like mandatory inclusionary zoning. It has to do with understanding, as Romi said earlier, that this is about government money. But it’s not just about government money. And you can give home builders and developers incentives to use their own money and the money of other homebuyers who are buying market housing. And we’ve done this in Calgary to really make a much bigger difference than you can do with public money alone. So that’s a long way of saying, yes, cities are complex systems, but you can actually use that to your advantage if you got the right people at the table.
Mary W Rowe If you have questions, put them on that little card, staff will bring them to me and we can ask them. We’ve only got a few more minutes. But if you’ve got questions that you want to put to either of these three, yeah, someone will bring it over to me and we’ll ask it. And I’m just interested to get Marion and Bruce’s perspective on scale. How do we provide the kind of leadership and policy support enabling conditions for communities at all scales? And are there particular differentiators with a metropolitan region, smaller region? Go ahead, Marion you start, then Bruce …
Marion Mollegen McFadden So one of the things that gives me the most hope is that we have seen all levels of government coming to the table to address the housing challenges. We are not at the scale that we need to be. But for years it was, “oh, that’s the federal government, that’s what they’re supposed to do” for decades really, going back to like the 30s, Right. But over the last ten, 15 years, we’ve seen voters going to the voting booth and saying, “let’s tax ourselves to create housing trust funds”. We’ve seen communities giving up their right for our city council or whoever to really look over the specs of what’s being proposed and say, should we or we shouldn’t we allow this building and say, no, no, no, we’re going to do by-right permitting, getting rid of parking requirements, all the things to increase density that we can’t do at the federal level.
Naheed Nenshi And that’s exactly what’s going on here. Our challenge, by the way, I’m just giving me three seconds to read the cards, our challenge here, by the way, is that the federal government was largely absent in housing for many, many, many years and has come back with full force now. But I always say it’s our favorite game in Canada. It’s pass the buck. And as a result, nothing ever actually gets done. That’s the province’s responsibility, but we need money from the Feds. But the city ends up with all the problems. You know, a great example of this is in immigration and refugee right now. I been in the largest cities, I think in eight of ten provinces this year. And I was just in Toronto this weekend. I love Toronto. I was born in Toronto. I spent my 20s in Toronto. Somebody broke that city while we weren’t looking. And it’s a real problem. And one of the real problems is you have refugees who are coming to this country and the city does not have the means to house them. So we have refugees sleeping on the street. This should be a national scandal, but it really is … The feds have the money, the province has the responsibility and the cities and the cities end up carrying the bag …
Bruce Katz Can I say one thing about geography, because the city level for that is not the right geography to talk about this industrial and energy transition. Because, you know, in the US we define metropolitan areas as commuter sheds and that has a particular thought about where people go to work, whether it’s a central business district, whether it’s a suburban employment center … we’re now in an industrial, you know, transition, we’re beginning to make things again. And therefore what matters are supply chains and talent pools which extend way beyond city or metropolitan space for the most part. So I do think that we’re going to need new kinds of geographic definitions if we really are going to do what we say we’re going to do, which is to reshore production, dominate sensitive technologies, with our friends, right? And focus on critical minerals. The city level is not the right level for that. And the metropolitan level may not even be the right level for that. We may be talking about metro regions, particularly in the US, when you start adding in our defense establishment, which is far flung and in a lot of strange places.
Mary W Rowe And one of the decisions that CUI has made largely is to focus on working at the staff level with the permanent bureaucracy that live on for a long time and continue and outlast political mandates. And so, for instance, there are no politicians on this program. They’re just formers. And most of our relationships are with staff. And we’re supportive of the politicians, obviously. But how do you two and it may not be a question easy for either of you to answer, particularly Marion because you’re in government, but how do you make these advances stick if the political winds change? The blunt question is, is the Biden strategy going to survive Trump 2.0. That’s the blunt version. But tell us how you navigate that.
Marion Mollegen McFadden So I started as a career employee, I shifted over to be a political appointee under President Obama. I changed a whole lot of things I felt great about, walked out the door and saw the Trump administration rescind them, and then came back in the door with the Biden-Harris administration to put things in place. And, you know, it’s a pendulum in the United States. It is a pendulum. And we try to make the changes that will stick. And we do that in two ways. At the White House level, at the political level, we have press releases about climate and racial equity and other hot issues that are very, very important to the party and very important to the people voting for the party. But then at the career level, at the way we talk about all of the jurisdictions that we’re giving money to and the way we’re making requirements, we try to use language that makes sense, right? Because if you don’t want to talk about climate change, but you’re concerned about protecting a property for its foreseeable, useful life, I can work with you on that, right. So we try to take the politics out of the initiatives once we get to the implementation phase. And we’ve also worked on educating our own team. We’ve done free trainings for all HUD employees. Five-part series about climate change just to make sure their understanding what we’re talking about.
Mary W Rowe If there’s a change in government, there’s some hope that.
Marion Mollegen McFadden It lives on. But understanding that some things will go because elections have consequences.
Bruce Katz I think most of what I’m describing is sort of a democratic form of Trump’s economic nationalism to a large extent. And I think a lot of this industrial transition will persist. I think, you know, I mean, it’s hard to even imagine Trump being president again. I mean, you know, I mean, I’m gone, right? [laughs] But already searching for other places to live.
Naheed Nenshi We have excellent visa programs.
Bruce Katz No, I’m …
Mary W Rowe There’s a home for you in Canada.
Bruce Katz But I do think what Biden is responding to is a fundamental shift in the geopolitical order and a shift in which nations do what. Right?. And I think we just have to accept that we’re in a really different moment right now and that the extreme globalization that basically has defined the last 30 years is over. It’s over. And therefore, countries and cities and metropolitan areas need to find their new stake, their new position in economies where they’re going to own more of not just the innovation, but the production. And I think we’re just still sorting this out.
Mary W Rowe You did write a book called The New Localism. Just saying.
Bruce Katz I did write a book called The New Localism. And if I had to write it again, it would be about this point, which is cities are networks. We’re in the middle of an industrial energy transition of monumental proportions. The rules are getting rewritten. Which bit of all this do you own?
Mary W Rowe Last comment to Naheed …
Naheed Nenshi There are three seconds left on the panel.
Mary W Rowe You can say it quickly. You can.
Naheed Nenshi I just want to say thank you all for being here. We are in this moment of creativity, in this moment of transition. And I don’t know I don’t think any of us know, not even President Biden, what that future should look like. But we kind of know how to get there and we get there with open hearts and open minds of people. We get there through empathy and compassion and thinking about what the future could look like with a sense of complete creativity. But the one thing in particular, if you’ve heard me speak in the last 11 years, you know one word in Sanskrit and that one word in Sanskrit, is Seva. Seva means selfless service. And I truly believe that in our service to our communities. That’s where we find the future. So I want to say to all of you who given up your time to listen to Big Brains and former mayors talk about things, I just want to say thank you for your seva. Thank you for your service. And I remain optimistic because we are going to build an even better community.
Mary W Rowe Thank you Naheed. Thank you, Marion. Thank you, Bruce.