State of Canada’s Cities Summit: The Kind of ‘Problem’ Canada’s Cities Are
Canada is one of the most urbanized countries in the world, with over 80% of the population living and/or working in an urban community of more than 5000 people. However, policy and investment decision-making by both the public and private sectors is challenged by fiscal and governance arrangements constructed almost two centuries ago, when Canada had a much smaller, less concentrated and less culturally diverse population, and a much simpler economy. The pandemic, coupled with the challenges posed by technology, and timely imperatives with respect to climate, equity, and reconciliation put inordinate pressures on leaders from the public and private sectors to meet local needs, support local solutions-finding, build local capacity and create opportunities for everyone. Hazel McCallion, the long-time Mayor of Mississauga famously said: in Canada the federal government has all the money, the provinces all the power, and the municipalities all the problems. How can we fix this?
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 R. Rowe All right, everybody, take your seat. My name is Mary Rowe at the Canadian Urban Institute. Really thrilled to be here in the nation’s capital on such a glorious, glorious day with the sun coming up behind us, and the Parliament buildings not far and the canal right behind us. And all of you … thank you. Thank you. Thank you for helping us make this happen. I don’t think we’ve ever … CUI’s never done this to my knowledge before. I’ve certainly not done it in my brief tenure in this role. So I’m going to invite the first panel up. You guys are going to set the stage. You’re going to set the standard for running on time because I’m bringing you up eight minutes early. So would you welcome, please, our first panel chaired by moderated by Dr. Janice Stein. Come on up.
Janice Stein So let me set the stage very briefly … I want to do a lightning round, which means one sentence. Brian … All right. You know, fast round this panel with this first question and they don’t know I’m going to ask this question. Outside of Canada, people who know cities, what would they say that we are doing that is excellent. Wow. Look what a city in Canada is doing. I see Brian’s face. The rest of you are getting a heads up. Brian, over to you first.
Brian Bowman You want me to go first? Yeah. Okay.
Janice Stein What’s the wow factor?
Brian Bowman I would say that we have historically done a very good job of welcoming people from all around the world and helping live together in peace.
Janice Stein So are we best at bringing people into the community, in cities, in the urban community, in the world?
Brian Bowman Are we the best? … I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say that. I don’t. I don’t know, actually. I know we do a pretty good job, but we got a lot of work to do.
Janice Stein That’s why I’m after ambition and reach here. Where are we the best, Kathleen.
Kathleen Wynne We’re pretty damn good in publicly funded education in our in our communities generally, but in our cities it’s very important because of exactly what Brian was talking about. So Ursula Franklin used to talk about our publicly funded education system as being the reason that we didn’t have the same kinds of conflicts as our neighbors to the south. So I would say publicly funded education is right up there in our excellence.
Janice Stein Okay, we are best in the world … urban, at the education we provide people living in cities.
Kathleen Wynne OK … again, best it’s hard for me to say best.
Janice Stein I know that.
Kathleen Wynne But that’s very, very, very good.
Janice Stein You see where I’m going? Let’s just keep going.
Alexandra Flynn So we’re a very diverse nation and our neighborhoods and communities reflect this. We have amazing local neighborhoods within cities.
Janice Stein And tell me give me an example where somebody and I’m going to pick this city really carefully now, in Marseilles would say, oh, boy, I wish I were more like that.
Alexandra Flynn That you can go to a Canadian city and find a neighborhood that has culture, that has music, that has local businesses, that has life, that is reflective of the diversity of this country.
Janice Stein Yeah. And to echo Mary here, we are probably … That’s the part of urban life that doesn’t get enough attention. What’s happening on the ground, Right. How it lives in communities.
Romy Bowers This gets harder as you go on the course. So carrying on these things, I actually also say I’m a Toronto residence. I’m very biased by Toronto, but I would say our food is pretty fantastic. You know, in terms of the diversity of the cuisine and just the quality, I think I always I’m always so happy to be. I can try not enjoyed that the food scene for sure.
Janice Stein That’s true that when you have diverse cities and diverse communities, you just you get the privilege of being welcomed into somebody else’s food and culture. And that’s a gift for sure. Last this is hard Maxime.
Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin (translated) It’s difficult to say because I don’t really know the cities outside but in Quebec one of the particularly that I that I know is sometimes criticized. We have a lot of a participative mechanism in regards to our citizens. I don’t know if it’s everywhere in the world, but our citizens can really participate in and in different councils, for instance, in different neighborhoods, the council, the consulting committees who are established, and they’re very interesting when they’re a project that are put in place and the citizens have the ability to really invest on that or to facilitate it or to block it. Yes, that’s really interesting for them to be able to be part of it and …
Janice Stein It’s important sometimes to take a minute to think about what we do well and where we can really be best. This is a large, you know, rich, well-endowed country with a growing population. And yet few of us feel that we’re doing as well as we should be doing. And there’s truth to that. I don’t think anybody’s room would say that the consistent decline in productivity that we’ve experienced is something that we can continue. I don’t think on climate, many of us would say that we are doing as well as we could and I could keep on going in that direction. But I’m not, except to say that all these problems are going to be solved in cities, which is not something we talk about enough. Our five biggest city regions are enormous contributors to all kinds of innovation, social innovation, technology, innovation, governance, innovation. So much that’s really important to our future is happening in our cities. So, Brian, you go first to term mayor, and we covered this. And this, by the way, is a great example of one thing. I think we need to do better in our cities, how people go in and out of public life across sectors, which is what Brian has done, and bring those skills. So that would be on my list, Brian, and what we might have to well, what’s the top problem you want to solve.
Brian Bowman Boy you scared me there. I thought you were going to say we can do better than him.
Janice Stein No.
Brian Bowman … We can do a lot better than you. So what is it? What is the biggest problem?
Janice Stein Yeah. What are you. And it’s a two-part question here. What’s the problem that you think is most important for cities to solve and what’s the way forward on it?
Brian Bowman Oh, boy. Well, I think I mean, one of the you know, listening to the responses from the first question, I was just thinking about how it really comes down to belonging. I mean, people congregate together as one to feel a sense of belonging, feel pride in who they are as people and as communities. And I think right now, with the insecurities and the anger that we do see in certain segments of our communities, cities … and I’d say mayors have a very unique role and responsibility right now to increasingly do whatever they can to bring people together. The mayors are the most trusted, you know, and municipal is the most trusted level of government consistently. Sorry, you know, but I mean, like consistently, municipalities have a greater connection to the people that they serve. They are more trusted. And so right now, where you see the threads that bind us together as communities and as a country, I think mayors are in you know, not only have a unique response, you know, role, but they have a responsibility to do what they can to to bring people together …
Janice Stein I’m going to push you Brian, put one practical idea on the table for us. I’m going to ask everybody that. Heads up. One concrete, practical idea that would improve belonging in cities.
Brian Bowman I think it’s actually going out and meeting people and letting them know that they are valued by that … The highest public servant in the city, which is someone who serves as mayor. And so whether it’s celebrating, you know, the land acknowledgment, whether it’s getting out in Indigenous communities, even outside your city, because we … one of the things we might touch on is just the the divide between rural and urban right now, which is concerning. And it should be of concern for folks in cities as well. But I think just getting out,, face to face with people I think adds tremendous value in a community.
Janice Stein So we have a Premier who was a school board trustee here and another mayor. I’m going to go to you two next. Premier, what’s the problem that you worry most about in cities? And what’s a concrete, practical suggestion that we can walk in and put in our toolkit here and actually use?
Kathleen Wynne So my experience of the relationship between the provincial government and the municipal government, first of all, I would just say, Brian, that people don’t know who does what, right? So although the municipal level is the closest to people. When I would knock on doors, I would be asked about sidewalks, you know, like fixing sidewalks. So it’s a good idea. It is a good idea. Or in one part of my riding, we don’t want sidewalks because we don’t want the hoi polloi running around and walking in our neighborhood. That was always an interesting conversation. But every conversation that I had with the mayors that I worked with came down to the flow of money and the ability or lack of ability for cities to sustain themselves. And the first private member’s bill that I brought forward when I was elected in 2003 was a sort of version of the City of Toronto Act that we then as a government expanded upon and put some revenue tools in. But I think that two things, Janice, the relationship between the province and I’m going to say, because that’s what I know, the province and the municipalities has to be more systematic. It is not … it is ad hoc in so many cases. And it always comes down to this bickering about money. And even when you try to put systematic things in place it … and those breakdown because there isn’t enough structure around them.
Janice Stein How do we break through Premier on that one because I think everybody in the room would acknowledge …
Kathleen Wynne Yes. So I don’t know how practical, I don’t know how fleshed out it is, but I think we need to design some way of there being an ongoing review … Reform of that fiscal financial relationship between the cities and the province. And it’s not it’s not going to happen just by dint of the person. Sometimes it’s the personalities. There has to be a structure in place. There has to be a mandate for that to happen.
Janice Stein And that’s a big one, I hope we come back to … Maxime wants in on this …
Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin (translated) Well, it is a bit of a self-promotion that I wrote a whole book to answer this question. And it is called “Free the Cities” and it is exactly with premier Wynne was saying is that the legal framework in which cities are working is broken. The fiscal framework in which cities are functioning also is broke. And we need to review the whole thing so that the different governments can work together, but especially so that they can be productive and smart about the way that they work. Right? So the solutions are not simple. I suggest, as some in a very good book that was published one month ago. First of all, it is that the true solution and then forgive me for speaking about this, it is constitutional because if we want a real local government with a real power to impose taxes with a real jurisdiction powers, we need to change the Constitution. All change topics right now. If we don’t do that, we need to always fix fix things piece by piece, right? And there are not systems that are as interesting, but we could have a charter of cities or charter of towns like in Quebec. Right? So and in Quebec, the question has been studied so that provinces can create jurisdictions and fields of competences for cities. And then we can negotiate a new fiscal system where there is a transfer of a part of the consumer taxes and sales taxes and then transfers from income taxes, but real, real transfers and real systems for serious governments to work together.
Janice Stein Very interesting and before I go to Romy … and put in place at the beginning of a mandate, what Maxine is talking about. Some framework which makes a multiyear financial commitment, sets parameters for cities. So … because you heard Maxine say it’s a constitutional problem, I’m turning the page. Let’s move right now. So we’re not going to do that.
Kathleen Wynne We’re not supposed to talk about the constitution.
Janice Stein No … But what’s the workaround? What’s the workaround? Get a Premier who gets it. Put a framework in place, four-year framework so that we’re not going through this annual ritual, which is excruciating to watch, and dysfunctional for cities.
Kathleen Wynne I’m not going to say no. I mean, I think it I think it’s possible. What I did was I tried to bring together mayors. I tried to create a forum where we would have relationships that could build to that. So it didn’t move fast enough. I needed to move more quickly. And there has to be some kind of education and consultation with the public. People have to understand what it is you’re doing, right? And so that takes time. And that’s a challenge. So maybe, Janis, the answer is it needs to be a bigger conversation than just one city. And that’s why this conversation is important. So that here starts to be some internalization of the fact that, yeah, we’re feeling grumpy about things and maybe there’s something we can do about it. And part of it is the way cities can function as opposed to this ad hoc. You know, we’ve got a budget with a hole in it every single year because that’s what the public hears. We need to broaden that and put it in context.
Janice Stein Romy … and you had probably one of the toughest ones, the CMHC, and you’re taking that knowledge to a global stage now as you move on to the IMF and if you think the CMHC is tough, wait till you get to the IMF. I can tell you the International Monetary Fund, which does this on a global scale. How do …. what’s your biggest worry for the future of cities, but then come down to the ground. What practical tools that you could suggest we add to our toolkit. So we’re not here four years from now talking about these same problems. We have moved them forward.
Romy Bowers Okay. So I think being the head of CMHC, I have to say the biggest issue is affordable housing. And it is a true crisis, I would say. I’m from Toronto and it’s been a crisis for some time, but I think it’s widespread across the country. I always describe the housing crisis from two perspectives. It is a crisis for those most in need. People in the bottom quintile of the income distribution. There is no place to live in Toronto. It is that and many other cities, and that’s a big problem to the sense of inclusiveness. A neighborhood where everyone can live. If people who work at Starbucks, who work in our restaurants, who work as nurses, teachers, cannot live in the city, it is a problem. So that’s one thing. And then the other problem.
Janice Stein Wait wait wait … What do we do?
Romy Bowers What do we do? So I think, first of all, for housing, for those most in need, the only solution is government. It is not possible for the private sector to provide housing at rents or prices low enough. So we need to … we haven’t invested in social housing, maybe Quebec is an exception, for many decades we need to really amp that up. So that’s one thing.
Janice Stein Well, maybe we should just … before you leave that, obviously government has a big role, but are there opportunities for private sector partnership with the government? Is the government … Who does government need in order to really to crack this? Because it’s just a huge problem in a big city.
Romy Bowers So from my observation, just as we have not invested in social housing, we have not invested in increasing the capacity of non-profits. In real estate development, there are some nonprofits that are fantastic, but not enough. So while the nonprofit sector increases the capacity, I think there are huge opportunities for partnerships with private sector actors who are willing to support social causes. Absolutely.
Janice Stein You had a second one, I interrupted.
Romy Bowers So the second one concerns most of us probably in this room. So this is our people who are in the middle class. And, you know, rents are going up way beyond what what you would expect in economy and house prices as well. And I think we have to come to recognize that if we have a housing market where rents or house prices are going up beyond the rate of economic growth, that’s a problem. And I have to say, you know, as a resident of Toronto, my house in the last 20 years has gone up in value by $100,000 every year. And people celebrate that. But it is a sign of a market that is broken and supply not keeping up with demand. You mentioned teaching, my husband’s a high school teacher. My house makes more money than my husband does. And that is not a sign of a good system. And when you … As long as that type of situation exists, you will never have affordable housing. And I think as a society, we need to take that head on. And when we see a market failure, we need to address it.
Janice Stein So just put a little bit of global perspective on this and then do something that I shouldn’t do. The only government that has invested … In which investment, not government, society that compares to Toronto in the world, in terms of the proportion … We don’t have a GDP measure for the city, but let’s call to TDB for the city of Toronto, is China. And if you watch what’s happened in China’s real estate market, it should tell you something about where the Toronto real estate market is. Let me ask for a show of hands. How many of you would give up the capital gains exemption on your house? Okay, Mary, look around. Stand up. Just in the hands. Right? Because that’s what …. I was at a daylong workshop and it was about like this. It was not the vast majority in the room. So that tells us something.
Romy Bowers And I want to state, I think it’s good for … I’m actually a believer in homeownership, and I think there’s a reasonable expectation of returns. It’s with these outsized returns that I have a concern about and I think we need to address that. And I think I think that’s really, really, really important.
Janice Stein It’s in part our taxation system that makes all this possible. Every country hides benefits in the taxation system. But when you actually say, “will you give up?” Do we have a crisis? “Will you give up this capital gains exemption”? You don’t get overwhelming applause in the room. It’s a tough one … Alexandra?
Alexandra Flynn So I’m going to echo Romy. We have an affordable housing and homelessness crisis. I think it’s bigger than that. I think it’s endemic of the crisis of our cities in general. We don’t know what we want our cities to be. You know, we think of them as governments. They are governments, but legally speaking, they’re not. They’re administrative bodies. And that causes real problems on the ground when a city needs to act, whether it’s housing now, which is a current crisis or other crises that we’ve seen in the past, it could be climate change, it could be anything. It’s just affordable housing now is symbolizing the crisis that our cities face.
Janice Stein Okay. Tell us what step you would take if you were the Super Mayor …
Alexandra Flynn So I think this is all fixable. I think a Premier, a provincial government, can make a huge difference in protecting and insulating cities, but also articulating and saying that cities are governments in a clear and straightforward way with dollars and with attention and with power. And that’s how I would fix it.
Janice Stein Let me ask anybody in the room want to get in? There’s a second round of questions, but I really want people in the room – if you have a question, Mary, we’ll see you. And there’s a mic. Mary, about anything … [Mary: bring me your cards]
Brian Bowman Can I can I just expand on a couple of the themes already?
Janice Stein Yes, while Mary’s collecting cards …
Brian Bowman I don’t think we need to do anything with the Constitution. I think that it is a complete and utter waste of time right now. And I think we’ll spend … we’ll have a lot of conferences and a lot of meetings, but we’re not going to move things forward. The reality is, is if you look at provincial governments, they give millions of dollars to cities in terms of operating grants. That should be an admission of failure by a provincial government that the current structure that they’ve imposed isn’t working. And so the grants should end, but there needs to be something that is going to replace it, that is economic growth driven.
Janice Stein Say more. What’s going to replace it? You see what I mean? Every time something else is suggested, I’m asking …
Brian Bowman There’s different models, I mean, provincial are our previous, previous provincial government pledged 1% of our new government comes in. They got rid of it. There’s, of course, PST- related. There’s retail sales taxes which have their own flaws in it as well. But pick a model. Find a model that works. That should be the discussion is which model would work and would reward the type of activity that we want municipalities to focus in on, which is economic growth and job creation.
Janice Stein So it’s over to you Mary with some questions. Maxine …
Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin (translated) Very briefly, the Quebec government in 2020 gave the equivalent of the growth of 1.1 provincial sales tax point to the city’s rate. So that is unconditional and it is the equivalent of 1% of the TVQ so it’s going to be 45,000,000 in 2024. And but … so for all cities, it’s not much. But there is an openness to talk about a revenue that is associated with economic growth and provincial taxes are associated with economic growth. And this week we just passed a law that confirms, in the law, this decision to transfer a part of the provincial sales tax to cities.
Janice Stein That’s number one, it’s predictable and it’s consistent and it’s from the law. Those are the kinds of things that we can do without going to that dreaded document. Kathleen …
Kathleen Wynne Well, and I was going to talk about initiatives like gas tax. So Maxime has talked about the tax base but also gas tax that goes every year and it’s predictable in it. But I just wanted to … I just want to identify a bigger issue. And it kind of it goes beyond cities. And, you know, the reality is my reality as a politician was that, first of all, few people believe us. So few people believe us when we say we actually need more revenue, whether you’re at the municipal level or the provincial level, I would suggest even at the federal level. But so to find a way to change the channel on that is really, really challenging. You know, and yes, we can look to provinces to transfer tax points, but at some point there has to be a shared understanding of what the revenue is that’s needed. Right? And I don’t think I think that consensus actually is more broken today than it was 20 years ago. And we’re in an environment where paying more for anything, at the same time when people want more and need more is really anathema. So that is a big challenge.
Janice Stein Let’s come back to that argument. Okay. But Mary, first of all, for people in the room, what.
Mary R. Rowe Please keep your cards and letters coming in. There are more. And please just bring them up and I’ll fill them in. First of all, just. And we’re relying on you to use your phones to know who these people are because we don’t have time to give big introductions. So if you’re wondering who these people are, you need to look at your phones, in your program so that, you know, you have a former premier, former mayor … Two former mayors, the head of CMHC and a constitutional law expert from UBC. That’s who you’ve got. Plus Janice Stein. So they kind of … between I was calculating and I think between you, you’ve got thousand years of experience, just saying …
Janice Stein You’ve got a scarce minute Mary, so go for it …
Mary R. Rowe And so the first question is, why can’t we talk about the Constitution?
Janice Stein … Because of Mary.
Mary R. Rowe … Because when I briefed them, I said, please don’t go down the rabbit hole, but have at it. Alexandra, this is your … you know about the constitution … Take a step.
Alexandra Flynn I mean, there’s so much to say. So our Constitution says that cities are creatures of the province. Essentially there’s a line that puts municipalities under provincial control and that’s led to court battles and battles in our hearts, I think for many of us here who are in the room. And so a lot of times when people talk about fixing the city, they say, we’ll just fix the Constitution and that’ll that’ll clean it up. But of course, that takes time as the Premier has told us, and in my view, we don’t need to do that. I mean, it would be nice if we could in an easier way. Canada has the hardest constitution to fix in the whole world. Actually, one thing we’re not doing well … But there’s other ways to address the issue. I completely agree with Brian. Actually, provinces have constitutions and they’re unwritten, but that’s one way that we can have a constitutional discussion that isn’t about the federal one.
Janice Stein So Alexandra, I suppose the reason we can’t talk about the Constitution, because if we do, will fail …
Alexandra Flynn Because it’s really tough. I mean, we’ve seen two failures of constitutional reform. No one wants to go there. It would be great. And Maxime has mentioned another way of addressing city power with one province that fixes the Constitution. It’s very technical. Find me at the break and I’m happy to talk more about it if you want to. But we don’t have to go there. There’s other tools in our toolkit. It’s a problem with, in a way, too many governments that are retreating except for cities who are left with the problems at their doorstep.
Janice Stein Next question, Mary.
Mary R. Rowe Well, I actually I want to … Brian, do you want to add anything to that in terms of what was said? And also, let me just ask, what would be the implications in terms of with First Nations governments?
Brian Bowman Yeah, I mean, that’s what I’m thinking about is if we’re talking about constitutional change for the purposes of one level of government, but we haven’t talked about Indigenous governments and that should be where we should start, quite frankly. So I guess the question is to what end with a lot of the things we’re saying, which I know our moderator is trying to get us to … Like, what’s the point? Okay, so the cities need more money. Okay. Do we need collectively more money in government? That’s a debatable point. I don’t necessarily agree with that. But are we spending money smarter? You know, so if we get more power. Okay, to what end, though? So I think with the Constitution, I would just ask, what can’t we fix outside the Constitution that we can only fix through the Constitution? And I can’t find an answer to that.
Mary R. Rowe Okay. Let me go. Next one. Can I get a staff member to grab it? I know it’s Al … because I can see his hat. There is a question over here. He’s putting his hand up. Could one of the staff get that for me and bring it to me? And if there are any other questions … oh, If they’re coming up.
Kathleen Wynne Mary, I need to say something … You know, it’s interesting, Brian, what you were saying, that we should start, if we are going to have a constitutional conversation, we start with the Indigenous order of government and the gaps in terms of the Constitution. That should not be an excuse not to talk about the Constitution. That actually may be the most compelling reason to talk about the Constitution. I think we have to be careful as we make our rationale about this. Right. I think that the reason that the city shouldn’t be the entree into a constitutional conversation is that we’ve got urgent, urgent problems in cities that need attention before we would even be halfway through a constitutional conversation. But I guess the thing is, we have to hold both those things. I mean, maybe we have to work on these urgent issues. And we have to also understand that at some point we actually are going to have to have a constitutional conversation. So if it’s not our generation, is it the next generation? And I think that’s you know, that’s a question that doesn’t have an answer today. But I don’t think we can just sweep it away and say we’re never, ever going to change the Constitution in this country ever again. Hard as it may be.
Janice Stein Next question, Mary.
Mary R. Rowe Yeah, they get easier, just so you know. Okay. There’s a couple here about … I’ll just group them … about housing, about the capital gains exemption and your straw poll. Thank you. So if if you won’t go … just for our Americans, we’re following this panel with some Americans who do get capital gains on their principal residence. So they’re, I’m sure, listening with great interest in what we’re talking about here. Question is, if if we weren’t willing to forgo it, is there an alternative? And so in other words, you somehow have a windfall gain tax, is that right, Steve? Is that what you’re looking for, a windfall gain tax to capture the excess gain?
Janice Stein So that would mean that when your husband earns less than your house.
Romy Bowers Yeah, exactly.
Janice Stein That gain is taxed.
Mary R. Rowe What do you think Romy?
Romy Bowers Honestly, I’m not a tax expert. I only think that we were having the tax conversation because we really point to the fact that there are a lot of policy incentives that benefit homeownership or other types of tenure. And I think as a society, we need to think about are there any unintended consequences of things like tax policy that were established many, many years ago? And this is a little bit like the constitutional discussion. At some point, you need to look at all the systems that support homeownership, rentals and say, is it really fit for purpose for the 21st century? And I think that’s … I think focusing on the tax, you know, when I talked about the capital gains exemption, but I think that’s only one part of a larger, I think, discussion that needs to happen. And as I said, I’m supportive of homeownership. I’m supportive of homeownership as a way to save for retirement. But I am not supportive of policies that support that, that create unintended outcomes in terms of people expecting outsized returns from their homes and that driving people out of the housing system. I think that is a policy failing and that needs to be addressed because, you know, when I look at my … I always like to go back to my neighborhood in Toronto. When I moved in, it was a very diverse neighborhood. Now that minimum amount of money that you need to enter is a million and a half dollars. And it changed the complexion of the neighborhood. And I don’t like it. I don’t want to live in a neighborhood that’s not diverse. And I also think I have to also point out my new employer, IMF, they released a country report. And this year in the country report, there was a link between high real estate prices and productivity. Yeah. And I think we need to say, you know, what are the unintended consequences of outsized increases in house prices, the impact on the overall and the flow of capital into industries and ideas that are going to be setting up Canada for success in the 21st century by relying on, you know, real estate gains. Are we actually cheating ourselves in terms of other more productive areas of the economy? You know.
Janice Stein Just to broaden this conversation before we go on to the next question, Mary – to bring in Alex and anybody else, it was really I was in really interesting discussion with some private sector people, some government people, some municiple people , talking about affordable housing – somebody said, well, the cause is … and there’s breath … not enough money in government to build out. No, no, that’s not the cause. Not enough engagement by the private sector to build a proportion of what they build as affordable housing. No, that’s not really the problem. The problem is if we could solve the money problem and the government problem, we don’t have enough people to build right now. So we need more immigration. Well, the conversation went, yeah, but we can’t house the immigrants we have now. So we have a very complex, intermingled problem, of which affordable housing is what we can identify, but it actually pulls in so much more. I see, Alex.
Alexandra Flynn I just wanted to add into that discussion, that laundry list … is we also need regulatory controls – so around preventing people from being evicted. The increase in rents between tenancies. So in Toronto, for example, it’s double digits. If a place is vacant, then the next rent can be 20% more. It’s almost the same in where I come from in Coast Salish lands in Vancouver. So there’s things that government can also do that aren’t just about building. It’s about preserving the housing stock that’s already affordable.
Janice Stein Maxime, are you desperate to get in? No. Okay.
Mary R. Rowe I think Romy, because you’re about to exit stage left, there’s a lot of questions for you. They want to make sure that you make sure that you get CMHC on the right track before you depart. Okay. But two weeks.
Romy Bowers On, I’ll try my best.
Mary R. Rowe Yes, exactly. But here and I know we have colleagues here. And so couple of things. One is, could that – can the federal government actually leverage more money? Could it actually create could it actually put more money into the system? Janice, the moderators, aren’t you shaking your head? And the other question is, what about the role of the not for profit sector in terms of generating housing and creating housing, but then our housing mix? Romy, to you.
Romy Bowers So the first question is, you know, since I think the current government has put a lot of money into housing. There is that. But as you know, housing is expensive and it’s it’s really challenging, is challenging to meet the need. And as I mentioned when you’re talking about housing for those most in need, it’s expensive. Like when CMHC does a project for a family size apartment, the cost of construction is about $500,000 a unit. It’s a lot of money. It’s actually larger in some larger cities. So it takes a long time to rebuild the social housing stock when you haven’t been building for 30, 40 years. So I think I would say that more money, of course, is absolutely needed. But I think there’s opportunity. I think that we can actually leverage every dollar of federal investment if we can have better coordination with provincial housing programs, with municipal housing programs. I think there’s huge opportunities there. In terms of the nonprofit sector, I think I already mentioned, I think we need to invest in the capacity of the nonprofit sector. We need to develop more trusted partnerships with nonprofit groups who have the capacity to deliver now. And I do think a model that appeals to me is a mixed-use housing. Nonprofits that have units at market price are subsidizing those units that are not at market. I think there’s huge opportunities there in the absence of enough federal funding. There are some nonprofits who are doing amazing work in terms of building those mixed units, and I think, you know, there’s never going to be enough money. And we need to really think about innovative financing models.
Mary R. Rowe One follow on Janice that all of them can respond to. And I know Maxime wants to get in … Would be, should we be taking more aggressive regulatory action to control institutional investment in real estate. So anti-competition regulation and absentee investing, financialization of housing, all those big, large macro issues – for the whole group.
Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin (translated) My short answer would be yes. Yes, we need stricter measures. But we also have to remember that for the most vulnerable, the private market never met the needs of those populations. Never. If there is no government funds, well, there is no social housing that is being built or affordable housing. So a short comment on what you have just said. We are talking about building and not for profits are building new housing. And it’s clear that we need new housing. But there is movement currently, especially in Montreal, for these organizations to buy what is already built, which was traditionally in the private market and transfer them into social housing. And this, in the short term, is really interesting because we are removing a lot of units from the for profit market and bringing them into the nonprofit market, not for profit market.
Alexandra Flynn Yeah, I mean, I want to applaud to that too. You know, it’s … we have we have a bit of an infancy in Canada around how much we expect our housing to be built and run in a traditional way. Namely, we put a lot in the house, right? It’s an investment. It’s where we can access good schools for our children or what have. And it’s too much in that house. We’re not seeing it as a home. And that’s the real poverty in Canada. It isn’t just a unit of competition. It’s a home. It’s where we build our communities. It’s where we see the diversity of our cities. And so we have to control – we have to put regulatory controls around that. There are so many examples internationally of novel, legal, ways like having land trusts. And Quebec is a real leader in this around acquisitions to have entities that look and feel a bit differently than we’re used to – own and operate housing and we should be doing more of that.
Janice Stein Mary maybe I can share just one example, because I think what Romy said, I’m happy to invest in my home because it will look after me in my retirement. And so if you just think about that, that is related. That way of thinking is related to our decline in productivity. Because if you are investing, real estate is not a productive investment. It does create jobs. It’s not that … If you were thinking, “Ooh, I’m worried about my retirement, I’m going to invest in this and this and this and this” . And those were productive, growing sectors of the economy which were creating opportunities for our future. And so part of is really deeply cultural.
Mary R. Rowe And that plays out in terms of institutional investment. There is a pension funds going. Right. Okay. One bit of a switch for all of you … Okay, enough about housing. What about – don’t we have an income problem in cities?
Janice Stein That’s a great question. Who wants to take that one?
Kathleen Wynne Well, I think we … I mean, we touched on that at the beginning in terms of the revenues that cities have access to. I assume that’s what the question is.
Mary R. Rowe No I think it’s actually talking about people are working two, three jobs … [people’s incomes …] They’re having to … Okay, you know, there’s no living wage, they’ve got the wrong kind of support. But it’s a big, important …
Kathleen Wynne: So it’s the disparity of incomes. It’s the lack of access for the middle class that you were talking about Romy, to an adequate income. And I think that that ties into the growing inequity, right? That ties into that gap. It ties into why when we were, you know, when I was the Premier and we raised the minimum wage because the corporate sector was not raising the minimum wage, you know, even though they were fully capable of absorbing it. And when we raised the minimum wage, we saw an increase in jobs and we did not see a reduction in jobs. So so again, that’s a deeply rooted belief system that, you know, people are going to be able to fend for themselves. And the private sector has sort of stepped out of that. That role of being stewards of the community, stewards of the society and has left that to government. So that is a big problem.
Janice Stein And that, I presume, is I think we would all say is going to get worse, Kathleen, as we move into the really disruptive consequences of generative AI, which is right in front of us for the next ten years.
Kathleen Wynne Right. And I think it’s also the reason that there’s a resurgence of conversation around things like basic income. Janice, you know, that that that group of people in this country between 18 and 64 for whom there isn’t a top up because for children and for seniors there is. But we have not been willing to step up. And there are bills in front of the House of Commons and the Senate right now on basic income. And I’m not just saying that because Ontario did a basic income pilot, but I think it is the reason – A, it’s the reason we did the pilot and B, it’s that that inequity and the lack of responsibility that’s being taken by the private sector is why we have to have this conversation.
Janice Stein Any comments from anybody? Mary, do you have any more cards there? Let me just make sure everybody got in and then we’ll come back to you. Maxime.
Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin (translated) The increase in income inequality in this society. Well, there are some solutions for people’s income, and I think we have to to speak about this as well. But we also have to recognize that in a context where social inequality is on the rise, the role of cities is even more important. George Lucas, the French politician, said that the only wealth of the poor is the state. Well, in municipalities this gives access to free culture and also recreation parks, pretty much everything for free security. So for people who are the most poor, the city is, you know, with the increase of inequalities, the city is going to be increasingly important because this is what offers quality of life for these individuals close to home, to their children and to seniors. So for me, the struggle for cities and their role is even more important in the context of inequality.
Janice Stein Questions … I’d rather take one from the room if you have one. We’ll save five minutes at the end. We’ve got 15 to go.
Mary R. Rowe I’ll give you two that you can chew on. And someone is saying, look – The narrative in cannabis seems to have been hijacked only by housing and that the only conversation we seem to be having is about housing but in fact, what about transportation? What about transit? What about income? What about placemaking? What about the quality of life, all that stuff. So I think the question for the panel would be, how do we reset the conversation to be about everything at once? That’s the first thing. And then the second thing is, as they leave, as you guys finish with us, you know, are there ways to change the machinery? To get better outcomes, better collaboration, better decision making, better investment.
Janice Stein So, right, let’s just go to everybody with those. And we’ve been having that conversation really, because housing is a symptom.
Brian Bowman We were told not to talk about the Constitution. And so my brain is hurting because I’m trying not to in terms of better outcomes, I mean, some of the inequalities we see, I just try to break it down in terms of what are the entities we’re talking about good at. So what are governments good at? What is private sector good at? What are not for profits good at? One of the things that government, especially municipal government is good at, is trying to be that equalizer in society where systemic … I mean, we look at, you know, where the disparities are and in many cases they’re broken down by race. So systemic racism affects … I think, about Indigenous peoples and the outcomes that we see amongst Indigenous peoples in Canada. You know, and I, you know, I was mayor of the city with the largest Indigenous community. I’m very proud Métis myself. And … But you know, the outcomes for Indigenous people in Winnipeg, in cities across Canada you know they’re not good enough for fellow Canadians. And so one of the things I look at is what are the services that the different levels of government provide. So transit was just mentioned by Mary. Transit is one of those things in Winnipeg. Historically, you need a car to get around. We are making major strides, positive strides as other cities are, to help with public transportation. It helps with climate change, it helps with, you know, in many ways. But if I look at municipal governments, practically speaking, what can you do to help with affordability? Transit’s actually a really big one. It’s a big part of your expenses as individuals. So that that would be that’d be one, one thing.
Janice Stein Premier …
Kathleen Wynne So in terms of the machinery, because I think that is, that’s the interesting systemic question. I really like what Maxime, where you were talking about in terms of the participation in the consultation and the actual empowerment of people to have a say in what is going to happen. And if if they don’t take part, then it doesn’t happen. You know, I think we … I think we need to find ways, especially post-COVID, and especially in a social media world where we’re not reading the same news, we’re reading whatever’s in our echo chamber. And I believe that if we could figure out how to bring people out of their own little circle and engage because they have to, because there actually is a role and a responsibility for them in the democratic process and in doing that, help the general public to have a better understanding of how things work. I mean, I’m drawing on my experience, early experience in public education in Toronto. It doesn’t happen anymore after the amalgamation of the school boards. But in the old Toronto Board of Education, parents actually had an obligation to feed into the staffing models of the school. So they actually had to take part and vote on what the staffing model in the school was going to look like. It sounds like a small thing, but it meant that parents understood what a split class was. They understood what the what the allocation of teachers was to a school. I think that that level of granularity actually helps people to understand the bigger picture because they have a window on it. So that’s a piece of machinery that I think we should explore.
Janice Stein It’s a great point. We’ll come back to that.
Alexandra Flynn I think there’s so much going on in cities that’s joyful, that is bringing people together, that is celebrating Main Street, celebrating neighborhoods, celebrating food and and municipal governments are the ones who are doing that. I mean, they’re filling the gaps in these crucial policy areas that are being left to them, even though they’re under shared jurisdiction by all governments. But the thing that’s so magical about the city is that they are filled with people. And these people, like all of us here, need to have a way to express that sense of belonging. And so that is the nuts and bolts of the machinery. It is a way to really like celebrate that life. And, you know, in this post-COVID, Covid, I think we’re still kind of post-COVID, maybe still Covid kind of universe. We become more fearful about gathering people together, coming together. But we need more of that. We need more of that community.
Janice Stein Romy …
Romy Bowers Okay. So this is I’m not going to talk about housing, but this is just my personal opinion. But I’m a free market person. I believe in the power of the private sector. I believe that Canada needs an economic strategy for the 21st century. We are a very small country in the world. How are we going to succeed if we do not grow our economic strength? We are not going to be able to have some of the riches in our in our communities that we’ve had in the past. So what is that strategy? Government’s role is to create the conditions that, you know, for an industry to thrive and to create, you know, the distribution of wealth, I think that’s totally legitimate. But I feel that we don’t talk about that as a society. What is our strategy? What are the industries that are going to create that innovative solution for Canada? And I don’t see that discussion happening. I think it’s absolutely critical for the creation of cities. I personally find this conversation about the financialization of housing not helpful because it’s too simplistic, and we have to recognize that most of the housing in Canada is created by the private sector. We need the private sector to participate in the housing creation process. If there’s bad actors in that system, you need to be very laser focused as to who those bad actors are versus just saying it’s financialization of housing. There should be no profit making in housing. I don’t think personally that’s a very productive discussion. And it goes back to this. We don’t like to talk about that. We don’t like to talk about economics and businesses and innovation, how to create wealth. And I think there
Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin (translated) I would like to come back to the mechanics. I think for me one of the great challenges for cities is to convince or to help understand provincial governments and federal government that they will never reach their own objectives unless cities are not partners in all of these projects. We can’t reduce debts unless we have the cities participate. We can’t welcome immigrants without the participation of cities. I could go on for a long time, but we don’t recognize this. The federal/provincial governments will have housing programs and we learn about them at the very last minute. And then we can say, well, you know, it’s really interesting, but it doesn’t really correspond to the reality of our cities. So we want to improve the mechanics. The cities have to be at the table all the time. And this is what these other governments who feel superior, you know, I just say the other governments, because they’re not superior. We all play a different role. And as long as they treat cities as inferior, we will not we can’t resolve the mechanics.
Janice Stein I’m going to pull together 3 or 4 of your comments. Right. And then just conclude and by the way, before I do, let me thank these great panelists whom I did not introduce so that I can have time to ask my question. Okay. We’ve all said cities don’t have enough revenue and in fact, our governments may not. We’ve all said that we need to address a whole series of interconnected, complex social problems, which everyone … We’re talking about. We still have to move to the complexities. And in order to do that, we’re going to have we need resources to do it. So I want to go to Amy’s point. We are not doing well in comparison to our peers in terms of rebuilding an economy for the 21st century, and we don’t do that. So that’s where I agree with Romney. We’re not going to have resources. We’re going to have less revenue because people will be doing less well. They will be paying less taxes and we’re going to be fighting over a shrinking pod. Which is not a story for the future that we want to have. Secondly, to rebuild an economy for the 21st century, it has to happen in cities. It just has to happen in cities because that’s where the innovation happens and that’s where new stuff gets thought out. And thirdly, to come to your point, Alex, it comes because people bump up against each other. That’s where the creativity and the innovation comes from. And that’s what tends to happen in cities far more than anywhere else. So if we acknowledge that we have to do this in order to achieve all the other things and that cities are the places it’s going to happen. I’m going to do one more lightning round before we let the next panel come up. What if you were super mayor here, each one of you. Where would you, how would you, in fact, enable the kind of innovation and creativity that is going to lay the groundwork? Because that’s who does it. It’s the city. Lay the groundwork for Canada for the next 25 years in a fiercely competitive global economy that we are no longer shielded from. In a way, we were … to be a little blunt here … We’ve been lazy. That’s over. And if we can’t build a muscle mass, we will be having a much sadder conversation five years from now or ten years. Maxime, just start us off.
Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin (translated) And I will respond indirectly to the question. There’s something happening in the last two years that is very interesting in Quebec. There is this whole new generation of mayors, women and men who were not in the municipal world previously. These are people who have engaged themselves for the environment and homelessness. And these were fans that we were not talking about in the cities. Previously it was Quebec who was dealing with those. So there is this new generation that I think is extraordinary in Quebec, where there are 5 or 6 … where women who are members of green parties and have really engaged in making them the cities more present. It’s as if citizens have been voting with their feet. So they’ve been and there are these activists who have been voting locally. I think citizens are realizing how important this is and we have to help these people who are currently changing the world locally.
Janice Stein This is a freebie to you now.
Romy Bowers And I’m going to talk about education because I feel education is a strength and we absolutely need it to succeed in the 21st century. And I have to say, I come from a long line of teachers, especially women in my family, all teachers. I said I would not be a teacher, but I married a teacher. So that’s great. And I have to say, I am shocked at the underinvestment in education in Canada, and I’m a big believer in the public system. I am shocked at how little teachers get paid, how little professional development opportunities that they have. And I wonder how they can be successful in building the next generation. And I think it is honestly something that we really if … I don’t have children, but if I had children, I’m not sure if I would be sending them to the public school system. And that is a shocking thing for me because I’m a firm believer. So I think we really need to think about this as a country and think, is our education system fit for purpose for the 21st century? Do we have the right people in teaching roles? Do we have the right resources to support them? And what are the consequences of not investing here?
Alexandra Flynn I think we need to scale up something that’s happening in Toronto right now, which is the, you know, kind of who does what of this era, which is liberating the municipality from responsibility for things that it can’t control, and clarifying which government is doing what … It’s bringing the federal, provincial and municipal to the same table to figure it out. And we have to do that at a super system. We need to take things off the municipal plate. And we need to clarify which government is going to be acting, because right now cities can’t be the creative, exciting idea generating place that they could be.
Janice Stein Alex … is that always not going to be a local. It’s got to be locally done, that table though, always.
Alexandra Flynn You know, I don’t think it has to be local. And in fact we didn’t talk a lot about it today. But the regional question are smaller municipalities versus bigger ones and equity between them. I mean, that’s a whole other … we can have a whole other panel. Maybe there is another panel on that. I hope so. But, you know, that’s part of the conversation, too. And we’re … we can do this. You know, this is not an intractable issue. We can bring these three levels of government together across the country.
Kathleen Wynne So I’ve got two quick things. The one actually builds on … that I talked about when I was premier trying to bring the GTA mayors together. I think that if I were a super mayor, I would try to be a catalyst for a systematic process of just that, sorting out what should. Because what’s happening right now is there’s a lot of ad hoc-ary in that relationship. And I’m talking about Toronto, but it’s beyond that. It’s issue by issue. And so that kind of systematic – how are we going to sort this out? I would try to be a catalyst to that. To build on what Romy said, education was where I was going to go, but I was going to be talking about if I were super mayor. I would work with other mayors to impress upon the provincial governments that if we let our post-secondary sector deteriorate, there are a whole lot of issues around elementary and secondary. But right now, and this is an Ontario context, but I think it goes beyond Ontario. We are not supporting post-secondary. We are not making sure that every young person who is able, actually goes to post-secondary, whether it’s college, university or a training program. And if we don’t do that, then we will not be able to compete because that has been our advantage. Our educated workforce has been our advantage in the past, and we’re going to lose that if we let the system deteriorate.
Janice Stein Music to my ears.
Brian Bowman So you’ll be pleased when I was mayor, I made it a priority to to partner with our universities and our colleges. That included helping support a municipal infrastructure research chair at the University of Manitoba. Really proud of it, getting great results. I heard a phrase the other day. I don’t claim credit for this, but it was it was an Indigenous elder and it was repeated by our new premier Wab Kinew who said that education is our new buffalo. This is, you know, resonates in the prairies in terms of empowering growing indigenous communities in Canada. And so I think some of the biggest innovation that’s happening right now is happening in indigenous governments. Some of the biggest economic investments in Winnipeg right now are Southern Chiefs Manitoba Métis Federation
Janice Stein … with the private sector too in that kind of partnership
Brian Bowman I think my punch line for this though would be and it’s to bookend what Maxime has said is that the importance of electing pragmatic collaborators at the municipal level is more important now than ever before because it’s so easy to exploit division in this country. And we elect people like that at our peril. And so there were some super mayors that got elected before me. One of them is right there in my head who inspired me to run for office. And now there’s a new generation of leadership at the municipal levels that is really exciting. But I would just focus on getting really good people in there because they are the ones that will convene and will bring people together and help innovate and empower it, working alongside other levels of government, including Indigenous governments.
Janice Stein Thank you so much to all these wonderful panelists.
Mary R. Rowe Thank you, Janice, Maxime, Romy, Alex, Premier Wynne and Mayor Bowman. Thank you.