Alternative City Futures: Lessons from Around the World

Join CUI’s Mary W. Rowe, Antonella Valmorbida, Secretary-General at the European Association for Local Democracy, Jean Pierre Mbassi, Secretary-General at United Cities and Local Governments of Africa, and Rudi Borrmann, Deputy Director at Open Government Partnership Local, as they discuss how municipalities across the world are driving reform in governance and citizen engagement to help reimagine alternative possible futures for Canadian cities.

2021 Massey Cities Summit

From April 6-8 2021, The Massey Cities Summit 2021 brought together leaders from across Canada and the world to reimagine the municipal role in Canadian federalism, while also acknowledging the constitutional rights of First Nations.

Organised by Massey College and the Canadian Urban Institute (with much appreciated support from the Maytree Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada).

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Local governance is about the people

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi of the UCLG of Africa reminds us that local governance is not just about policies and legislation; for many people in our cities, it is a matter of life or death. Says Jean-Pierre, “Beyond the statistics, beyond the laws, beyond the maps, there are real human beings who cannot be reduced to averages, and whose lives can be destroyed by the stroke of a pencil.”

2. Accountability requires decentralized powers

Antonella Valmorbida of the European Association for Local Democracy argues that public accountability is built in part through citizens’ awareness of the authorities embedded within their local governments. But if responsibilities are not decentralized and local governments are not empowered to tackle the issues that matter to their residents, there is no reason for people to become invested in the future of local governance. Subsidiarity is critical.

3. The architecture of governance has become a “black box”

Rudi Borrmann of the Open Local Government Partnership says public trust is challenged by the fact that the architecture of government has become a “black box.” Without the resources and intentional opportunities to involve and explain to residents how their taxes are spent, how decisions are made, and how they can provide input, people will not care about equitable governance. “Local governance is important. Open local governance is key.”

4. More complex forms of governance are possible

Decentralized authorities open the door for more complex forms of governance that are more aligned with the experiences of residents. Jean-Pierre gives the example of African cities, where the legitimacy of public authorities sits alongside and sometimes in competition with traditional, religious, and other forms of authority. Local government can be strengthened through “positive complicity”—for example, by involving traditional authorities in local government.

5. Local governments need to work differently

During COVID, many local governments have stepped up to tackle problems differently, with cross-sector partners. But even when the global pandemic eventually comes to an end, there will be other challenges, just as visible and visceral, that demand local governments to innovate.  Training and capacity building for local governments will be critical.


Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

Mary Rowe [00:00:28] Hello, everybody, welcome to City Talk is part of the fantastic Massey College City Summit, my oh my oh my, I’ve been watching with great interest; people participating with a great level of intellectual rigor and an enthusiasm. I just want to shout out to my academic colleagues who are showing great enthusiasm for this topic, which isn’t necessarily something that everybody talks about at their coffee tables. But I am here joined by three illustrious folks engaged in these issues on the ground in cities around the world. And this is about what alternate-alternative city futures could look like if cities were governed differently and if they had different resources and and powers. And so this is a kind of session where we kind of test drive or see how these concepts and principles actually can play out. And we’ve got three folks joining us who have very particular experience in advocating for local governance in all its different forms. I’m Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute, and this is a combined session with CityTalk with our CityTalk audience across Canada in the U.S. that watch our sessions regularly about issues facing urban life and also all the folks that are involved in the Massey College Cities Summit, which is going on for three days, and which we encourage you to go to the website and sign up for some other sessions if you haven’t, because it really is riveting to hear people talking about a topic that in Canada has a lot of sensitivity around the Constitution. It also known as the C word. And these folks are really adding some vibrant ways to rethink this. And to not make this as overwhelming a topic as it often is seem to be. So we’re very appreciative to be partnering with Massey College and with the with Maytree and SSHRC, who are also supporting this process and this event. And-and-and we’ve been delighted to work with Principal Des Rosiers and colleagues across the country on the organizing committee who are going to pop in and out of these sessions over the next three days. And you’re going to see me every day, too, because I get to have a gang like this- put their minds to it and share with us their expertize each time. So it’s a- it’s an iterative conversation, a live conversation. And it’s really designed to raise questions, get us all thinking imaginatively about what the future of governance in our cities could be and to allow ourselves to ask questions that tend to be shushed away. These are serious topics. And we get three serious folks here joining us. I’m in Toronto today. It’s a beautiful, sunny day, which we’re appreciative of. We’re in our interminable lockdown here in Ontario. And so some sunshine is welcome. I know that my colleagues in their jurisdictions also are experiencing varying degrees of lockdowns and curfews. We’re all continuing to try to soldier on with what seems to be a relentless challenge that COVID and now the variants are posing and then governments various attempts to try to contain the virus. And we appreciate always at the outset that there are people working on the front lines trying to keep people healthy, save lives and protect us as best we can. So we always acknowledge that this is also the traditional territory, Toronto of a number of First Nations, the Haudenasaunee, the Wendat peoples, the Mississaugas of the Credit and Huron Wendat. And we have three, two treaties that we’re subject to here. One is the Williams Treaty and a number of treaties that were signed with Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit and then a number of treaties also signed with the with the multiple Annishnabec, nations. And here in Canada, we have been struggling to come to terms with the legacy of urbanism, which has been excluding-it’s often been racist. It’s    certainly been anti-Black racist. And we are continuing to come to terms with, as we build back, better. What will more equitable urban environments look like? And that is part of this conversation, I think is will new governance approaches make our cities more equitable? Will they make them more just? So, that’s the context in which we have these folks joining us. And I’m really pleased to have them. Antonella, Rudi, and Jean-Pierre. Jean-Pierre’s in Morocco, Rudi’s and I think Brussels and Antonella, are you still in northern Italy? Is that where you that’s where you were when we last spoke. Right. So they’re there at the other end of the day. We’re between them and whatever their evening ritual is. So we appreciate them taking time. Details of their biographies are posted in the chat. As anyone knows who comes on CityTalks chat, the chat function is very important. One, lots of conversations take place there. We encourage you to post questions there and feel free to answer each other’s questions. There’s a whole parallel universe that goes into the chat and we appreciate very much the caliber of discourse and the way in which you share that chat as a way to share resources and all that kind of thing. So, thank you for that. We, as you know, we record these sessions, will post them after the fact and we post the chat. So whatever you write, just remember it’s there for posterity. So I’m going to just turn to each of our guests and ask them to give us a little snapshot of what they do and what their perspective is- with this in mind- that we’re talking about approaches to local governance and what you see as the priorities going forward for a situation like Canada would find itself, where it’s starting to reimagine different kinds of arrangements, both fiscal arrangements and decision making arrangements. What, from your perspective, would you say would be the most pressing set of conditions that you would like us to be thinking based on your experience? So I’m going to go down to Antonella first. If you look again on the bio, you’ll see that Antonella has a long- I don’t want to say long because that implies she’s old. I think Antonella is younger than I am. So she’s not that old, but she is the secretary general of ALDA since 1999. So she’s been at this for a number of years and she’s all about citizen and resident empowerment, local democracy and all the different ways in which that’s being experienced in Europe. She has subsidiarity in her bones. And although we’re Antonella, we’re very, very appreciative of you joining us. So why don’t I start with you? Have you unmute yourself- just give people a picture of what your life’s work has been and the priorities that you’re choosing now and then after you, I’m going to go to Jean-Pierre and then after Jean-Pierre, I’m going to go to Rudi. So over to you, Antonella.

Antonella Valmorbida [00:06:55] Hello. Thank you, Mary. Hello everyone on the other side of the Atlantic, yeah, I’ve been working on empowering local communities, Mary, and for these last 20 years. So for me, local communities means work with local governments which are empowered, able to decide on their resource. That’s when we come to taxes. Yeah. So on their resources, they have to decide what is good for their community and they engage with citizens. So me communities are both- both the stakeholders and they need empowerment and we need to create instruments which facilitate the dialog and constructing together. I’ve been working here in Europe, which is a pretty big concept. But, let’s in what we could say, the 28 to 27 European member states and then also the Council of Europe member states and then also over the Mediterranean a lot. I worked a lot also in Eastern Europe and transition post-Soviet Union countries. And what I see is that actually this is a sort of universal drive, Mary. I think that’s facing the challenges. Also at the global level, we need very strong communities and whatever happens, they are impacted. And what are the challenges, whether this is a global challenges when it comes to pandemics- but it was also environment when it is also-also demographic issues and migration issues. The communities have to face the reality. So said that-said that we need both sides of the communities being empowered and and local governments, they need to be able to decide on on their instruments. They have-they have to have choice and instruments. And in order to have instruments, they need to also have a budget. So we are often referring- in Europe and both Rudy and Jean-Pierre knows that we are referring to a Charter, which is the European Charter on Local Self-Government, which is mentioning the fact that real local authorities are those who are able to have their own taxation, that they are able to have a choice on their own budget, because if it comes only from the state, this is a-this is-this is not real. So you need to be able to have your own taxation. I made a research, and I, I think I can do, for instance, and evidence that subsidiarity, which is also the topic of our conversation today, is is the key issue. It’s a constitutional principle. In Italy, for instance, subsidiarity is mentioned as such in the Italian Constitution. So, first you start with local authorities and then if it’s not solved, it goes further. But the starting point for subsidiarity in the Italian Constitution is, is there in terms of taxation, of course, it’s an immense issue. It creates the possibility of choice for local authorities. And it is-it creates a possibility for citizens to have a counterpart. For instance, in French municipalities where we have our headquarter-our headquarter is based in Strasbourg, Strasbourg has, for instance. Thirty percent more. Thirty five percent from their own resources plus with taxes, various taxes. Plus, they have the revenues also of instrumental companies, which are energy waste management and so on. So half more than half of the budget of a big city of France is depends from their own revenues. And that’s completely change the the dialog, the the the elements of the discussion. So I think that I will conclude, because I’m, of course, fascinated by by what Jean-Pierre is going to say and from his experience, which is broader than mine and from-from another enormous challenge of the world, which is Africa. But and Rudi, of course, from the OGP experience. But what I would say is that now more than ever, these two elements of civil society and local authorities combined with together with dialog and empowerments are certainly a solution for the global crisis that we are facing. And what I wanted to tell you, because you mentioned that in Canada you are talking constitutional reforms, I think, that- yet to confirm that in in many countries of the world of Europe, where I’m working mainly this is a constitutional point which-which it- and that makes a big difference.

Mary Rowe [00:12:28] Thanks, Antonella. I’m going to come back to some of the concepts you talked there about instruments of dialog, this idea that we need and that and that they need local governments need to choose their instruments and have the resources to choose those instruments. And I think this is something we’ve seen in Canadian cities during COVID is that municipal governments, local governments have been on the front lines. They’ve had to improvise and do all sorts of things in a crisis that they didn’t have the resources to do and they probably didn’t have the jurisdiction to do in certain instances. And they just had to do what was required. And I think that the question is, how do we turn that into some kind of enduring structural change that makes sense so that whatever the challenges are that are ahead. Anyway, I want to go to you, Jean-Pierre, and for us to hear from your experience here as the secretary general of the UCLG, the United Cities and Local Governments in Africa. And he’s in Morocco and he’s got lots and lots of experience. As you can see from his bio, he’s been enmeshed in these issues in cities and communities in the continent of Africa for a number of years. So, Jean-Pierre, thank you for joining us on CityTalk and at the Massey Cities Summit and fill us in on how you’re seeing this all evolving.

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi [00:13:42] Thank you, Mary. Thank you, Antonella. And thanks to all the folks that are following this webinar. And my apologies for my-my-my poor English.

Mary Rowe [00:13:57] But you sound good. You sound just fine.

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi [00:14:00] I don’t know. But what I can tell you is that this issue of governance tends to be a buzzword now. And I want to remind all of us that a few years back, the world was shocked by the revolt of the Tunisian people against the regime which most politicians are expect in politics around the world. We’re describing a stable regime. Servicing its people. Why did a young guy have to-to burn himself out in order to attract attention on his condition? As a street vendor in the second city of Tunisia. We’ve no hope to earn a living. As if because he doesn’t have a certificate needed to assert his profession. I think this is. What takes us to the act of what we’re are talking about? We need to understand that the issue of governance for many people is a matter of life or death. But, when we address these issues on platforms like this, we tend to do it in a lighter mood somehow, far from this very hard reality. Beyond the statistics. Beyond the laws. Behind the maps. There are hot blood human beings. We cannot be reduced to average. Or which life can be destroyed by a stroke of a pencil drawn on the urban map. So, I want to call our attention on the fact that when we consider local governance we should keep in mind this reality. That for majority urban dwellers in Africa, for example, experience in real life, is learned the hard way. So let’s not talk of governance as if it’s just a scholar issue of a theoretical issue, but it’s a really, really important issue that impact on the day-to-day living condition of the people on the ground. I’m talking from a position of Secretary-General of UCLG Africa, the umbrella organization of local government on the continent. And I’m confronted with the-the dream of these elected people to get to a level where they can respond to the needs of the population. But also, the impediment in which they are caught. And because the competences are not rightly defined. Resources are not right to define. The confidence is not there. And even the perspective of the local government being the “landing field” of any developing is not understood. So, I think it is very important to not-go to jump into bolding definition, bold discussion, but to start with this very humble way of attacking this very complex issue define with toward local governance. It is very complicated and sometimes if you go into the case of- a continent like ours where the legitimacy of public authorities is in question Where you have a different sources of legitimacy, traditional, democratic, and others- religious and others in competition. Local governance can be very complicated to define and to practice, so, well, let’s start with this few remarks, so that when we evolve, we are not caught into just procedural automatical definition or practices. What we’ll get back to the basics all the time. Thank you for this.

Mary Rowe [00:20:25] Thank you, Jean-Pierre. And what a poignant beginning for us to be reminded that cities are about people and the impact that these kinds of structures have on people. And as you suggested, how that manifests around the world in terms of who is advantaged and who is disadvantaged. We’ve certainly seen that during COVID around the world, that the people who are most vulnerable and for whom the system is not working are the ones who have been at greatest risk of the impact of actually getting COVID or the impact of the measures to close it. So to close it down. So thank you very much for reminding us just how real this is and that it’s- it’s a tangible material conversation that we’re having. So, I’m going to come back to some of the things you’ve mentioned, as I’m sure your colleagues will. Rudi,I’m going to come to you next to talk to us a little bit about the Open Government Partnership- your approach here from Argentina, you’ve been active, I think, in some of what Jean-Pierre and Antonella are hinting at, which is what are these instruments that allow people to have agency, some kind of input into how the structures around them affect their lives. So, let’s go to you and you can talk to us a bit about your perspective and your experience. Welcome.


Rudi Borrmann [00:21:44] Thank you, Mary. Thank you very much. I’ll try to compliment that very humbly to what she has said, which is absolutely the baseline for this conversation. So, the Open Government Partnership is an organization that is 10 years now. It was launched by President Obama and 8 years- 10 years ago. And now it’s an organization of 78 countries and more than 3000 civil society organizations that are promoting new ways to cooperate. New ways to tackle the challenges. Working together with civil society with working together with non-governmental actors. And in 2016, we launch our pilot with local government. It was the first time that local governments were part of the initiative. And what we saw in the evidence is that, of course, many of the commitments that we promote in OGP is basically the creation of action plans and concrete commitments that are created with civil society and the government together and can be monitored in promoting transparency, accountability and citizen participation in a diverse range of policy. And we have seen at the local level that these results are better. Of course, because if you have the problems right- and the opportunities right at your doorstep. Right- the unity and the citizen unity at the national level, it’s already impossible concept. But at the local level, it becomes absolutely, absolutely real. That diversity, those eco systems that operate at the local level are very tangible. And so that knowledge that we stow and that-that capacity there and at the local level makes much more sense. And before joining this organization, I work at the national the local government in Washington, always a mix of citizen participation, digitalization and public innovation. And one of the things I think is very important to think about, the pandemic has been an absolute I will say a turning point is- what are the capacities that the local level has? Or innovating in the creation of policies and tackling solutions, and that’s what we promote-we promote complete tools that can help, in this case local governments, to learn how to work with other stakeholders. Usually those capacities are not part, for example, of the training or the capacity building- not at the national level and not at the local level. So, when the organization that I’m working now was launched was with the idea that we can find new ways to tackle problems. And that you can you cannot have all the solutions yourself being the goal. You need to- and that’s something that you need to bring. That’s something that it’s really hard to do in order to work with others- politicals- get in the middle, the structure get in the middle. And I think also that is one thing in line to what what Jean-Pierre and Antonella was saying was just also we are trying to promote constructive dialog between the national governments and the local governments to see what are the things that we need from you and what are the things that we can manage ourselves, because I think that that knowledge and that dialog is also very constructive in this. In this dialog, but it’s true that we have seen through this pandemic how municipalities have to tackle with data like they have never done before, let’s say permits, availability of beds, buying resources, making different kind of decisions. And they have to sort of create and make those solutions themselves in many cases. And are the ones that are being used, if you see the examples of a COVID fighting around the world, many local governments, either it’s a province or it’s a municipality, are the ones that are showing different sort of responses and solutions that that were brought through the emergency. But what happens if we train and we create better capacities at the local level in order to have more tools to promote those capacities, because one thing is to have the capacity to react to something that, we are- we are experiencing right now. But, what’s the capacity of the government to work better with others, and I think that’s where really huge opportunities for innovations are appearing and that’s what we are trying to support from the Open Government Partnership. It’s a new way to work better with others, which is clear in this pandemic, we have not been able to work better with others because explain me how there are countries that didn’t get one vaccine. And that’s corporation doing wrong with all the organizations that around the world. So it’s a matter of capacity. It’s a matter of reimagining cooperation in a different way. And that’s what we are trying what we’re trying to do and in OGP and what-I’m what I’m doing right now. We are running our new local program that has expanded from 16 to 70 new local governments that are part of this experience by from government and civil society that work together. So we are learning along the way and happy to share and be part of these conversations to really rethink how we cooperate better to tackle today’s pandemic. But I think we are aware- and aware of the challenges we have just in front of us waiting for us.


Mary Rowe [00:28:08] Thank you, Rudi. I was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina for the five or six years after that. And, you know, we’d had this sudden flood. As we started to look at the challenges in New Orleans, we realized that there were all sorts of slow Katrina’s that had existed in different forms in cities everywhere. And I feel, as you just suggested, that the COVID is the most glaring global disaster. But we have so many other challenges that each of you is dealing with in your cities that maybe haven’t been as visible or as visceral as COVID. But now here we are. And as this word, you’ve used “capacity” to invest in local capacity. So, I-I want to suggest to you as a group that I, I am struck by a couple of key concepts that you touched on. And I’m interested whether you think local government can address these in a unique way. The first is legitimacy. Do you feel that local governments have the potential to have more legitimacy in the particularly in the world we’re living in now? More legitimacy, first question. Secondly, the other half of it, which Antonella talked about, accountability. And Jean-Pierre, you mentioned as well. Is it possible that citizens and residents- voters will support more power to local municipalities because they feel they’re legitimate and they’re accountable, and then my word, the third was, could we make the case they’re more effective in addressing, if empowered, could they be more effective in meeting our needs and then what you’re suggesting, Rudi, is, then we need to invest in their capacity. So I’m wondering if I might come back to Jean-Pierre, because you raised the issue of legitimacy and we are experiencing that in North America and Europe as well around vaccine hesitancy for instance, whose- where is the legitimacy coming from? What is your perspective about the potential for local governments to actually be able to earn the level of legitimacy that is required for them to do their job? What do you think?


Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi [00:30:35] Well, first of all, let’s say that the first experience of any citizen to the public authority, except the migrants, you know, refugees, is the local authority. It is very clear that the local authority, the closest public authority to the people. So, it means that these citizen are very much inclined. To judge the legitimacy of public or public authority through the length of the way local authorities serve. And this is why we don’t understand when a central government is reluctant to decentralize or devolve power to local authorities because its own legitimacy is judged by the way the citizen appreciate the local authorities. So the end of any govenance is to build trust between the citizens and the public authorities. And this is the first step to building this trust, is to have for people that have confidence in the local authorities. So your question go far beyond this first statement. You talk of more legitimacy. In the case of Africa, we have the problem, a serious one. Is that most of the government or national state derive from the legacy of colonization. And this states, the borders of the state, were defined in the Tea Party in 1885 in Berlin. So, we start building our state from the roof. Not from the foundation. And this is why we say that decentralization offers the opportunity to renegotiate the legitimacy of the state and embed them in societies, but when encountering these societies we had over legitimacies in the traditional legitimacies. That is contradictory sometimes with the legitimacy of the modern state. So, the way we have going to make a prediction of these two legitimacy is an issue. And I don’t know if the local level is not the appropriate level to try and make this a prediction between the traditional legitimacy and the modern state. For sure it cannot be done at the national level. So if you have any chance for it to be done is at the local level. And this is why we think that the local level a more legitimate to renegotiate and to rebuild the confidence to public authorities than the national level. But we are living in the world of states and the legitimacy of all our tests is related to international relations, not the result of their citizens. So you see where we are caught in a contradiction here.

Mary Rowe [00:34:44] Yeah, I mean, you-you’re describing a kind of ground up democracy is from the ground up. And my connection to your your comment about people’s experience of government is shaped by their experience of their local government. We see that in Canada and we have colleagues participating over the next few days who’ve been advocates for this. When a when a newcomer comes to Canada, immigrates to Canada, and they’re here for a period of time and then they’re eligible for citizenship and they take their oath of citizenship, we know that their understanding of Canada is actually about their understanding of the city that they’re in. That’s that’s Canada to them, just as you suggested. And the question as you-as you’re questioning, though, somewhere over time we’ve drifted to a place where nation states are structured to set these policies in directions that are become so far away from people. So Antonella, if we go to you in terms of the accountability piece, we certainly argue here that as Jean-Pierre, suggesting that at the local level, there has tended to be less partisanship, and there’s and the focus tends to be on letting those-those local officials solve problems. Can we persuade the public and someone in the chat’s pointing this out, that people don’t tend to go out and vote in their municipal elections in North America. They’re very low turnout. But yet Jean-Pierre is saying that’s the most important level of government in front of them. Can we persuade people that you can have a higher degree of accountability of local? What’s your experience in Europe on that Antonella?

Antonella Valmorbida [00:36:36] Yeah, I’m trying to follow the conversation here and also reading all the very interesting stories.

Mary Rowe [00:36:42] It’s a lot in the chat anyway, yeah I know.

Antonella Valmorbida [00:36:45] Just just one thing is that, um, before I respond, before responding to you, to your point on accountability, I think the point that Jean-Pierre made on tradition is actually very important. I mean, we are coming from a sort of strong social and institutional setting from the past, and that has an immense influence. The way we address public local institutions. So if we talk about Europe, I mean, the the small, net close, you know, Western Europe, let’s say. So it’s-it’s-it’s usually very city-based, oriented. So it’s le maire en France. It’s the cities in Italy. We-we essentially are very urbanized in cities or we have been like this for many, many, many centuries. If we talk about Eastern European, for instance, where I have been working in a transition after the end of the world and the transition post-Soviet. For them, the municipalities are very- they consider it a very low level of governance, because when it is very centralized, top down, and especially in former communist area, the center of the power was not the municipality. It was the party. It was the secretary general of the party. And coming from Moscow, let’s say so, yeah? So, they-they are not- they don’t see the municipality as a place to decide because everything is decided elsewhere.


Mary Rowe [00:38:40] Because it was so centralized.


Antonella Valmorbida [00:38:43] Even though today, even though today, things have changed substantially. I’m not really talking about Russia per say, but the rest, for instance, of Eastern Europe for change. But in the in the mindset of the people, it’s an enormous struggle to perceive what are the laws actually. So this is, you know, the world and these kind of places are full of very good laws on decentralization, for instance. Yes. Empowerment of local municipalities or regions, but not implemented because the people don’t feel it. So this is what I wanted to say. Accountability is- needs to be an instrument. You need to build it through instruments and also through-through awareness of citizens that understand that and perceive that this is an important level of governance. Said that, people are not stupid, you know, and they are not passive. Yeah, people are not stupid and they are not passive. They are reacting to things which are important. So if nothing important happens there- so they are not asking for accountability. So, we need to decentralize decisions, powers, and competences so that the-the people feel that this is an important level. So, if the municipality does not decide anything, they don’t have budget, for instance, we have been working in countries where the municipalities were created to do this famous fund to Mattick decentralization. Sorry, I do these kind of things because probably- I’m from the South, so I use a lot of my hands. But, I so it’s you know, you need to put things important decision in the municipalities and the cities. Otherwise the people will not ask for accountability.

Mary Rowe [00:41:00] Right. So-so we tend to say chicken egg. It’s one of those cases.

Antonella Valmorbida [00:41:05] Yes, yes, yes. well, there is no chicken or egg. It goes together. Yeah.

Antonella Valmorbida [00:41:09] And then I think that, of course, Mary, it’s more accountable just for the very, very basic reason is that local governments, you know, they have a name, a face, and they are living here. So, you know, you can knock at the door and the children of these people are in the in the same school where my children are going. So there is a very direct accountability, and you cannot really fool too much around because it’s actually very clear. So there is a potential of accountability, which is immense at the local level. For instance, I have been working in a small country for over a research and there’s also activities in Eastern Europe, which is Moldova, which is a small country, which used to be USSR. And there is a small municipality. They have a staff. I remember that I did a research on what Jean-Pierre mentioned. So we should, you know, look at the laws that the practice on on citizens’ participation and local government. So I went there to see both the law and the practices. And there was the lady dealing with taxes in the municipalities. We are talking about 12,000 people and they had a staff member going in the street explaining in the street, what’s the taxes, where for. So there we’re meeting the citizens, explaining to the citizens in the street in the main street of this little town, which is actually called Comrat, because it’s not abstract. As as we all said, it’s reality. You have cities with millions of people living there. So in Comrat, Moldova, capital of Gagauzia, which is a separate sort of autonomous state of Moldova, region of Moldova, there is a person going in the street and explaining to citizens why they’re paying taxes. What is that for? So of course, communication, explaining why they are paying taxes and how they can be used for the community, it’s very important. Yes, there is an immense potential of accountability. But as I said, we need to start from the point that the people understand what is good and what is wrong, and they understand where the power is. If they understand the power is not there, that they are just puppets, then they will not ask for anything.

Mary Rowe [00:43:58] So so, I mean, you’re making this point, I think, that local government could earn legitimacy if in fact it had if it-if it had clear responsibility and it had resources, it would eventually earn legitimacy and it would it would become accountable. It’s interesting, Jean-Pierre’s comment and I reinforced it with my anecdote about citizenship, has caused the chat to blow up here about who do we-who is our allegiance to in Canada. But I think Jean-Pierre you raised a fundamental point around the legacy of colonialism and as as Antonella’s said that let the legacy of Eastern Europe under Soviet times, these are traditional kinds of structures that affect people’s capacity. And what I think Jean-Pierre’s challenging us to do is actually can we go back to the basic unit and rebuild our democracy from the local level. So I-I’m interested. Go ahead. You want to chime in on that Antonella and then I’ll come to you, Rudi. Go ahead, Antonella.

Antonella Valmorbida [00:44:59] Yes, sorry. I know that I have to give the floor to Rudi, who also who has a great experience. I just wanted wanted to say a couple of things that maybe is of interest of our participants is that more and more I’m working in countries where the national level is so stuck. Yeah, so stuck in any thing, corrupted and tangled in coup, one after another in war, that the only approach which is possible in any kind of governance is through the local level and very much also through a combination of new and old. And I’m talking about Libya. I’ve been working in Libya, which is a non-state. It’s a non-state as it’s not a really state as we define it. But for many years now there they pretend to have found a solution. I hope for them, but this is the good one. But the local government has been elected, Jean-Pierre. They had elected- they had local elections in Libya while at the national level, you can forget about it. So it’s interesting to see that in many countries and this is not only the case in Libya, that the national level, it’s, as we say, in French “ca brasse du noir” and it means that it’s dark.

Mary Rowe [00:46:31] But it’s like, you know, yes, it’s a darkness, muddy. Yeah.

Antonella Valmorbida [00:46:37] Yeah. It’s muddy, you know.

Mary Rowe [00:46:40] And I mean, I want to go now to Rudi just to have him comment a bit about these tools, transparency, open-openness. Is this part of how we respond to Jean-Pierre’s challenge that we go back to the local and build from the ground up? Is that part of what you’re enabling this- to make local government more effective and therefore have the legitimacy that Antonella says that it can earn? Is that- are you seeing that in the partnerships you’re forming?

Rudi Borrmann [00:47:08] Yeah, and what I really like about what Jean-Pierre said is this idea of architecture, right, and building the basic because what we really need to ask is how we go beyond the ballot box when you’re trying to talk about creating- because we-we currently have a challenge of trust. Right. In our institutions that have done a lot of work to not gain that trust. And I’m talking about the state in general. You can take a look in the parliament. You can take a look at justice and the executive power of the state I will say, have failed in terms of creating that connection and I think a more informed citizenship- it’s the challenge that we all are living with because government, the government has become the sort of “black box”, which is very complex. Right. The jargon, the language the bad bureaucracy because there is a good bureaucracy. It has become something really hard to understand, but at the local level, the opportunities are much higher. Antonella was saying very clearly and Jean-Pierre as well, you have entry points on that distance and the matters that you tackle that opens a lot of opportunities for that is- for building those those and mechanism. And what we have seen in-in-in the Open Government Partnership all around the world at the national, but at the local level with more results is that there are so many tools involving citizens on understanding, as Antonella was saying, what are the taxes? How are decisions being made? How is this money being spent? What if we don’t understand? How can we make sense of how you create a more informed citizenship that can care about more of the problems because the government is not going to solve it themselves? You said you have to change their way. And what we have seen in OGP- what we promote is this construction of different initiatives that are built with the government and civil society together, that promote more accessible information, promote tools to take decisions together, to understand and visualize better how the government is spending not only for transparency, but making smarter decisions. There is now this all this narrative on the smart cities, which are really, really hate because you are smart about how you work with your citizens, right? I was saying let’s not jump into the flavor of the narrative when what we need to do is making sure that we build a solid basis on that architecture that we need to build what the citizens are put at the center. But we also try to find some way to create that- bring- to bring citizens in, because there is that-that distance in which the politics and the- and the government are usually the ones taking the decisions and citizens are left are left out. So there is a crisis of legitimacy.

Mary Rowe [00:50:27] But- and I was even going to go a little further and ask you whether this is about trust. Can you- can citizens or residents, realizing we have people living in cities who aren’t that aren’t national citizens, can residents trust local government and can they trust that their human rights, for instance, will be protected at the local level? Jean-Pierre, do you want to comment on that in terms of what your experience has been around that? How do you reassure citizens- local- that their local government will, in fact be the one that serves them? And protects them.

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi [00:51:06] You know, this issue of power, because this is a question of power. And the sharing of power. And among the ones that are said to be elected. And that thing that the election means that they are delegated. Powers. And they will they will then look for five years or four years before they go back again. To-to-to ask for this delegation. And you see the system of representation. And a selective democracy. Someone said that less and less people vote. So what is the representativeness of these elected authorities that are elected by less and less people? This is why we think it is important here also to bridge representative democracy with participatory democracy. And this participatory democracy means that, yes, you have times when you elect your people that can talk politically for you. But during the mandate, you have the opportunity to participate in the debate and the living, the policy- defining the policies of the of the of your-your local government, because there are participatory systems in place. And like Antonella’s said it, you need instrument for that. You cannot just say accountability. You need instrument for accountability and confidence. But you need instruments for confidence. So, there are instruments to slowly build the participation of citizens in the governance of the city. Well, I can mention one of the instruments that is now known is the “participatory budgeting processes” born in Brazil that is spread out in Africa. We have more than 105- 1500 local governments that practice now- the participatory budgeting. But, there are other instruments, we have what we call citizen rating. That compared how the citizen judge the way they are being governed. And we ourselves at UCLG Africa, we went further to say that we are going to rate the way national governments are friendly or not to local government, and we create what we call the City Enabling Environment grade. That grade that the countries of Africa, pertaining to the 12 indicators, and we classify these countries into green countries that are friendly to local government, yellow countries that could be friendly, but that requires some adjustment. Orange countries that are- to become friendly will need serious reforms and red countries that are adverse to local government. Because you need an enabling environment.

Mary Rowe [00:54:55] Is it working Jean-Pierre?

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi [00:54:57] It is.

Mary Rowe [00:54:57] The countries that got red, are the locals voting the bums out like-?

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi [00:55:05] They are challenged by their own, their own local government and say, “oh, we are red in all of Africa, we are behind all of this, we need to be we like the five green.” There that there is there is sort of competition. And remember, we organize every three years on this continent and we are the only continent that do that- that does that what we call Africites. A summit where we bring in the bulk of local government of Africa to discuss the implementation of decentralization policies and the role of local and regional government in the development integration of the continent. And this year’s rating form part of the discussion that is held between the mayors and leaders of regional local governments, the ministers, the development partners, and now we will be adding the regional economic communities in the setting of the African Union. So it is very critical that this issue of accountability is not treated as a standalone. It is part of the all enabling environment for building trust between the people and the public institution and building the relation between local authorities and other stakeholders that are active at the local level.

Mary Rowe [00:56:48] I feel like you three are just doing it. We have this phrase that we use here about better to ask for forgiveness than permission. I don’t know whether you’re familiar with that phrase, but I feel like you you three just say, look, we’re just going to do it. We’re going to tangibly demonstrate these things and then earn our way. And we’ve only got a few more minutes left. So I’m just going to ask each of you just to give us a 30 seconds, a minute on what you think the priority is for you right now in terms of strengthening local governance in the purview that you’ve got. First to you Antonella  then back to you Jean-Pierre and then Rudi, you to clean up. Go ahead onto Antonella. You first.

Antonella Valmorbida [00:57:31] Priorities. And it’s-it’s-it’s hard to say for when to start. Well-

Mary Rowe [00:57:41] Can you pick one?

Antonella Valmorbida [00:57:43] Some are more strategic, Mary, and some are more basic, let’s say so. So and of course we-we want to even more- I mean, as that my association is working on practices of of building communities and citizens participation. So, we want to really test and and work to empower this dialog. So we do a lot of practices and we we try to understand what works well and and and and what not. So, to provide a lot to our members and to the communities, we work for the-the instrument.

Mary Rowe [00:58:30] So, let’s let’s just take that. Just try to tie it up.

Antonella Valmorbida [00:58:35] So we have the day-to-day. So we are called every day by by a lot of people who need help in these communities. And that’s that’s also connected to this one.

Mary Rowe [00:58:47] Sure. So, this idea of creating instruments, instruments that are going to demonstrate this kind of this new architecture that you guys are talking about. Yeah.

Antonella Valmorbida [00:58:55] Yeah.

Mary Rowe [00:58:56] Jean-Pierre, one thing, one priority.

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi [00:59:00] Well, I think it is important to- for Africa, for example, to say that decentralization policies open the door to more complex system of local governance. Because local people can mobilize other modern state local authorities or customary traditional powers. So this complicity is one of the difficult situation we are facing because most of the time the state is too young to have gotten the fullscreen recognized by everybody as a reference in the management of its day to day activities and the search for security. In such situations, the involvement of traditional authorities in the governance become a requirement. If the concern is to reconcile the unity of the nation with the diversity of community living inside the boundary of the national territory. So, we think it is important to get into this reflection and to-to try and have a sort of inescapable influence of all- on many activities by traditional authorities the Africa section from UCLG.

Mary Rowe [01:00:26] I think you’ve introduced the notion of “positive complicity”. Maybe.

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi [01:00:30] Exactly.

Mary Rowe [01:00:31] Maybe there’s a way to dismantle. OK, last word to you very briefly, Rudi. Just 30 seconds priority.

Rudi Borrmann [01:00:37] Yeah, I think local governance is important, open local governance is key. And what we do in OGP is basically develop tools for creating- for creating those connections and the relation, more than 4000 commitment have been built in the context of these global infrastructure for the past 10 years, promoting these tools for accountability, transparency and citizen trust. So, openness is the key.

Mary Rowe [01:01:06] Fabulous. So, lots so much to think about legitimacy, accountability, effectiveness, trust, capacity, instruments of sharing and trustworthiness, all the stuff that you raise. Thank you so much, Antonella Jean-Pierre, and Rudi. What a really rich conversation. A lot of the things that you touched on and that the people in the chat have reached- touched on- are going to be dealt with in the next session, which is on cities and Indigenous relationships with Chief Laforme and a number of panelists talking about the colonial history in Canada and and what the constitutional constraints would be on that and how that needs to evolve. So, thank you for all that’s at three o’clock Eastern. For people that are wondering, just go to the website. You’ll find it. Thanks for joining us. Really, Antonella Jean-Pierre, and Rudi really you’ve enriched our conversation tremendously. And it makes us feel better that we’re kind of all in this and that cities everywhere are struggling with these issues and challenges. And as we recreate and go back to Jean-Pierre, build from the bottom, build back from the ground up. So happy to have you with us. Thanks for joining us. And thanks everybody for tuning in.

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi [01:02:05] Thank you.

Mary Rowe [01:02:07] Great to see you all.

Antonella Valmorbida [01:02:08] Bye bye.

Rudi Borrmann [01:02:08] Bye bye.

Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact with “Chat Comments” in the subject lin

From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

12:31:07 From Canadian Urban Institute : Welcome! Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments. Attendees: Where are you tuning in from today?
12:31:34 From Paula Bradley to All panelists : Barrie, Ontario Canada
12:32:10 From Graeme Budge : Vancouver, BC. Thank you!
12:33:11 From Giovanna Tieghi to All panelists : University of Padua, Italy! G. Tieghi (Thanks!)
12:33:13 From Kevin Chan : Toronto, Ontario
12:33:45 From Mara Demichelis : PhD student in Administrative Law, Turin, Italy! Thanks a lot.
12:33:46 From Faryal Diwan : Hello from Kitchener-Waterloo!
12:33:52 From Mark O’Reilly : Tuning in from Sylvan Lake, Alberta
12:34:25 From Christy Urban to All panelists : Hello from Edmonton, Alberta at UAlberta and the Alberta Land Institute
12:35:19 From Canadian Urban Institute : Antonella Valmorbida, Secretary General of ALDA since 1999, has a senior experience in promoting local democracy, empowerment and participation of civil society, and good governance in Europe, in the Balkans, in Eastern Europe, and in the Mediterranean area. She is a European senior consultant on local development with a focus on the implementation of participatory processes for urban regeneration. She manages a network of 350 members mainly composed of local authorities and civil society groups, in over 40 countries in Europe and beyond.
12:35:32 From Canadian Urban Institute : Antonella Valmorbida is President of the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD) and Member of the Advisory Board of Urban Foundation for Sustainable Development, Armenia. She has been Chair of the EPAN working group of CONCORD until 2016, Chair of the Committee on Democracy and Civil Society of the Conference of the INGO of the Council of Europe from 2008 to 2011, and she was the coordinator of the subgroup on local government and public administration reform of the Civil Society Forum for Eastern Partnership. In 2012-13, she was board Member of CIVICUS – the World Alliance for Citizens Participation.
12:35:41 From Canadian Urban Institute : Antonella Valmorbida has an academic career at the university of Padova, Italy, and published two books on the involvement of citizens at the local level to promote democracy as well as various articles. Antonella Valmorbida is a French and Italian native speaker and she is fluent in English and Russian.
12:35:55 From Christy Urban : Hello from Edmonton, Alberta at UAlberta and the Alberta Land Institute
12:36:01 From Canadian Urban Institute : Jean-Pierre ELONG MBASSI is Secretary-General, United Cities and Local Governments of Africa – UCLGA, Morocco. Mr. Elong Mbassi has held his current position since 2007 coordinating actions in decentralization, support to Local Governments services supply and infrastructure management. From March 1992 to March 2007, he was Secretary-General of the Municipal Development Partnership, West and Central Africa Office based in Cotonou (Benin Republic). He was Secretary-General of the World Association of Cities and Local Authorities Coordination (WACLAC), Geneva and from 1981-1991, he was CEO of the first Urban Project co-funded by the World Bank in Cameroon. He was Special Adviser to the President of the Planning and Cooperation Agency (Agence Coopération et Aménagement), a Paris-based French public company aimed at supporting developing countries in urbanization and territorial development.
12:36:29 From Canadian Urban Institute : Rudi Borrman joined OGP in March 2020 and leads OGP’s work at the local level, helping to accelerate impact and reforms where government is closer to citizens by supporting strategic national-local integration, enhancing subnational participation in OGP and improving knowledge and learning opportunities for open government reformers.
12:36:43 From Canadian Urban Institute : Previous to this role he was Undersecretary of Public Innovation and Open Government at the Cabinet Office of Argentina from 2015 to 2019. In this position, Rudi was in charge of the National Open Government Strategy, developing Argentina’s first open data infrastructure, establishing open government reforms with three open state action plans and running LABgobAR (the National Government Lab) to support capacity building and innovation projects using user-centered design with more than 30.000 government officials involved. In 2018 he chaired the Digital Economy task force during Argentina’s presidency of the G20. In 2012 he founded the Buenos Aires Innovation Lab, led the city’s Open Government project and was part of the very first new media office of Latin America, three pioneers projects in Argentina.
12:38:10 From Yael Boyd : Where will the recordings be posted?
12:38:37 From Henry Paikin : Well hello Yael!
12:39:20 From Shiv Ruparell : Yael! I’ll text you
12:39:29 From Canadian Urban Institute : Today’s recording and transcript will be posted on both and
12:42:57 From Alan Kasperski : Twitter … @masseysummit #MasseySummit
12:44:58 From Alexandra Flynn : Hello – I am grateful to be joining this is important talk, with thanks for all of your work.
12:46:16 From Diane Dyson : Nous vous souhaitons la bienvenue au Canada, Sec.-Gen Mbassi!
12:46:58 From Nathalie Des Rosiers : Merci Monsieur Elong Mbassi pour cette mise au point. Thank you for your comments.
12:48:36 From Olusola Olufemi to All panelists : Thanks Jean Pierre for putting a real human face-humanising governance-to the poorest of the poor who don’t even know what it means but just want to survive and thrive in their locale-everyday urbanism.
12:49:13 From Olusola Olufemi : Thanks Jean Pierre for putting a real human face-humanising governance-to the poorest of the poor who don’t even know what it means but just want to survive and thrive in their locale-everyday urbanism.
12:52:25 From Mark O’Reilly : The impact on our Seniors and young children are devastating
13:00:15 From Alexandra Flynn : Excellent question!
13:00:52 From Paula Bradley to All panelists : Transparency is a must!!
13:01:10 From Michael Jankovic : Wondering if all the panelists can discuss examples of heavily decentralized jurisdictions (i.e. jurisdictions where Cities have many revenue tools, and are able to raise own source revenues to pay for their own operation) and if anticipated benefits have occurred? Also curious to know where Canada fits in on the global spectrum; it sounds like Canadian municipalities which raise significant own source revenue via property tax, regulatory charges and user fees are actually more empowered than much of Europe (Italy excluded).
13:01:18 From Paula Bradley : Government transparency is a must!!
13:01:34 From Canadian Urban Institute : Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
13:02:03 From Alan Kasperski : When half of Canadians stay home for municipal elections, no mayor or city councillor gets elected with majority support. How legitimate is our 19th centruy representative democracy?
13:02:05 From Mara Demichelis to All panelists : Thanks very interesting! The impact of digitalization could be a result both for transparency and for accountability, as said. My question is for Antonella Valmorbida (and a request to have an email address to contact – mine is
13:02:44 From Antonella Valmorbida to All panelists :
13:03:23 From Nathalie Des Rosiers : Reallly good point that people must experience competent government ( accountable, responsive) for them to trust any government.
13:03:43 From Mara Demichelis to All panelists : What do You think about the role of cooperation between local authorities as a “common good”?
13:04:05 From Mara Demichelis to All panelists : Sorry, I probably used the “wrong” chat!
13:04:24 From Canadian Urban Institute to Antonella Valmorbida(Direct Message) : Hi Antonella. Your email comment went only to panelists. Please click on Mara’s name and resend so it goes to her. Thanks!
13:05:33 From Antonella Valmorbida to Canadian Urban Institute(Direct Message) : ok
13:06:15 From Mark O’Reilly : New Canadians take the oath to the Crown.
13:06:27 From Faryal Diwan : It’s a similar issue in Pakistan too
13:07:33 From Paula Bradley to All panelists : The oath is to the Prime Minister, not the Queen.
13:07:57 From Paula Bradley : Apologies.

The oath is to the Prime Minister, not the Queen.
13:09:21 From Sandra Shaul to All panelists : New Canadians take an oath to the Crown, which is the state. The prime minister is the leader of the federal government.
13:09:51 From Howard Green : Interested in hearing more about the Charter’s Antonella mentioned in her remarks. Do City’s with more exclusive municipal powers especially over revenue tools and governance structures lead to more participation by residents in the electoral process and are those municipal governments more accountable and transparent?
13:10:06 From Mariana Valverde : Not in Canada – i have personal experience of swearing true alliegiance to the queen, her heirs and descendants, and the oath has not changed. We do not swear allegiance to the constitution as they do in the US
13:10:29 From janet davis to All panelists : Spending power bolsters legitimacy. It gives governments the ability to deliver services or cash transfers that people benefit from. That’s why senior governments don’t devolve power or tax room. How do we address this?
13:13:09 From Sandra Shaul : The Crown represents the State. The prime minister represents the federal government in power. That is why the oath of allegiance is to the Crown.
13:14:48 From Mara Demichelis : Accountability and trust in institutions (same as their integrity) is something necessary in order to ensure transparency, involvement and progress of the society. Digitalization is the answer? What about the risk to not “involve” everyone in the digital progress? I think it’s a question of professionality and smartness of the Public Administrations.
13:14:56 From Mara Demichelis : Thanks, really interesting!
13:17:01 From Dennis Chouinard to All panelists : Thank you Jean Perrier, for bringing up the colonialism, it is a real problem in Canada.
13:18:16 From Marie Beck to All panelists : This conversation has assisted with understanding the difficulties with addressing our First Nation relations being that our Indigenous communities are Federally regulated.
13:20:43 From Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi to All panelists : I think accountability needs instruments to materialize. Of course digital solutions can have an interesting input. But really accountability is about confidence building between the people and local authorities. What we need for that is informed citizens that can make informed decisions based on both facts and political economy analysis.
13:25:10 From Faryal Diwan : I grew up/live in Karachi, and I don’t know if I would trust local government either… It’s corrupt at all levels. Power, influence and money runs everything in this city and country.
13:25:15 From Nathalie Des Rosiers : Monsieur Elong Mbassi – pouvez vous partager vos 12 indicateurs? Can you share the 12 indicators?
13:27:54 From Canadian Urban Institute : The Massey Cities Summit is a program of Massey College, in partnership with SSHRC, the Maytree Foundation, and the Canadian Urban Institute. COMING UP: Cities and Indigenous Relationships at 3:00pm EDT. For more information and to register:
13:28:46 From Paula Bradley : Faryal, I believe that corruption to be globally!
13:30:23 From Diane Dyson : One paper on the indicators:
13:30:26 From Faryal Diwan : True Paula, I see glimpses of it in Canada too. *colonization is part of it. But not sure if some countries will come out of it
13:31:10 From Nathalie Des Rosiers : thank you all – Merci – GRacias!
13:31:25 From Faryal Diwan : Thank you!
13:31:29 From marieta safta to All panelists : Thank you all!
13:31:29 From Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi to All panelists : Thanks to all
13:31:33 From Alan Kasperski : Trrific panel … thank you all!!
13:31:39 From Alexandra Flynn : Brilliant panel! Thank you!
13:31:40 From Giovanna Tieghi to All panelists : thanks a lot!
13:31:40 From Paula Bradley : Sadly! Provincial constitutions would set rules for governance
13:31:55 From Mara Demichelis : Brilliant! Thanks a lot to everyone!
13:31:55 From Paula Bradley : Thank you panelists
13:32:07 From Stephanie Van : Really great panel and discussion – thank you all!
13:32:14 From Martin Espina to All panelists : Thank you!
13:32:21 From Faryal Diwan : Thank you Jean Pierre!
13:32:22 From Diane Dyson : Bravo!