La voie à suivre pour le Canada : Provocations des bâtisseurs de villes Vol. II

The Way Forward for Canada is a new 2023 commentary series that will provide a platform for policymakers, urban professionals, civic and business leaders, community activists, and academics. You can keep scrolling on this page to read through the first series — which covers topics like Canada’s role on the global stage, data governance on climate change, public safety in cities, and more.

To read a note from Mary W. Rowe, as part of this series, click the button below.

Al Wiebe is a Peer and Community Engagement trainer who works closely with organizations and governments to advocate for those living in poverty and homelessness, and promote programs that are led by lived experience. He is the host of the advocacy radio show “Of No Fixed Address


Homelessness crisis needs urgent and compassionate action

With encampments growing each week in our cities, homelessness has become an issue that has been placed as a priority that needs to be addressed. In a poll before that last election in Winnipeg it was the number one issue. Why? Perhaps because “homelessness is creeping into my neighborhood.” Nimbyism is alive and well.

We have failed to address the crisis of not nearly enough “low income housing” and rather have allowed the decreasing and disappearance of housing geared to income. Allowing REITs to swallow up low income units and turn them into more than market rate housing, forcing more and more people into the streets and into their cars.

Diversity of demographics and rising immigration numbers is something that is truly needed, BUT where is the housing to support and match these numbers? Shelters in cities like Toronto are more and more populated by a larger percentage of newcomers to Canada.

We have seen police on horseback clear out camps on public lands using undue force. We have seen bear spray used on folks in camps, we have seen Indigenous organizations ask the city to remove their own people from adjacent properties.

We have to bear in mind that that in 2019 “The right to housing” was established in our constitution. What we have seen through these acts may be considered unconstitutional. The city of Abbotsford was successfully sued by residents of the encampments over policy that made them pack up their tents every morning .

Without immediate and concrete action by city, provincial and federal governments, tent cities will continue to grow within our cities. There is nowhere else to go and they continue to spread into unsuspecting and accepting neighborhoods.

To revisit the “Art of building a city” we need that ART to be innovative, colourful and all-inclusive – something we have not been able to achieve.

– Al Wiebe

Karen Chapple, Ph.D. is the Director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto. Her work focuses on the inequalities in the planning, development, and governance of regions in the U.S. and Latin America, with a focus on economic development and housing.

Building economically inclusive cities

At their best, Canadian cities deserve the envy of our neighbours south of the border. Relative to U.S. cities, our cities house a stunning diversity of people, demonstrate a conspicuous commitment to the collective good, benefit from a more robust federal social safety net, offer transportation choice, and feature distinct and resilient neighbourhoods.

But those Canadian cities are at risk like never before. First and foremost, to tackle challenges like climate change, housing affordability, and economic opportunity, requires alignment – coordination across municipal, provincial, and federal governments, and collaboration across departmental silos. (Where are the interagency working groups like Obama’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities or Newsom’s California Strategic Growth Council?) Then, cities need to refocus the growth discussion on economic inclusion, with a focus not only on dismantling structures of privilege and systemic racism, but ensuring that upward mobility is possible for immigrants and younger generations. The affordable housing conversation needs to move beyond providing market-rate housing production to social housing, unsubsidized affordable housing preservation and tenant protections. The plans for expansion of the transit system and transit-oriented communities must address the issue of land value uplift and community displacement. We need to figure out how we can provide more opportunities for the disadvantaged, from strengthening the cradle to college pipeline to ensuring that work pays.

In short, we need to create cities where all belong, and that belong to all of us.

– Karen Chapple

Margaret Pfoh is Tsimshian from the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation and is the CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA) in Mission, British Columbia.

Moving towards reconciliACTION

In Canada, a growing number of Indigenous people live and make their homes in major cities. Indigenous people are a vibrant part of the social fabric that makes Canadian cities an enviable place to live. But too often, urban Indigenous people are living in the margins. This is unacceptable and speaks to the need for ongoing reconciliation and relationship-building at the municipal level.

Recently, there have been some great examples in Surrey, Chilliwack, and Mission (to name a few) that have truly welcomed Indigenous leadership at municipal economic and policy tables for change. This is progress and true reconciliACTION.

Despite this progress, our research at AHMA indicates many cities grapple with not only making the commitment to reconciliation but demonstrating their commitment through action, represented by shifts in policy that advance Indigenous control and autonomy in decision-making practices. In BC, the vast majority of municipalities do not recognize Indigenous priorities in housing needs assessment, which drive municipal housing targets. While Indigenous communities are proven to have the greatest need, it does not appear to be well understood or prioritized by many municipalities.

From this perspective, reconciliation is merely a performative exercise, rather than a process to redistribute power and resources. In committing to reconciliation, municipalities need to recognize and prioritize their urban Indigenous communities and advance housing projects that support greater social inclusion.  This includes the distribution of municipal economic resources and lands toward projects that directly benefit Indigenous people, and support housing for those that need it most.

With nearly 40% Indigenous representation in communities experiencing homelessness, and 80% extreme over-representation in housing needs across the spectrum, true change requires Indigenous leaders at all policy and economic tables at all levels of government.

AHMA’s research is available in the 2021 Urban Indigenous Housing in BC Report and in AHMA’s 2022 URN Indigenous Housing Strategy for BC.

– Margaret Pfoh

Paul Mackinnon is the Chief Executive Officer for the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, the business improvement district that represents the 1600+ businesses in the urban core of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Downtowns face an uphill battle

Canada is an urban nation, a country of cities which seems to struggle with this fact. Its global perception, a result of intentional branding, tends to heavily feature coastal lighthouses, wheatfields, and the Rocky mountains. Its tri-government tax structure tends to leave us with a rich federal government, indebted provincial governments, and woefully underfunded municipal ones. Its electoral mapping seem to leave urban dwellers chronically under-represented at all levels. These are not new realities, but post-covid they seem to be exacerbated and leave us with not the right tools to react quickly to the things we must.

Downtowns, in particular, have been through all of this before. But the post-WWII flight from the urban core (not as pronounced in Canada as it was in the US), was the result of pro-suburban government policies and investment. The result of the pandemic is the flight of office workers (and some residents) from the central business district, leaving downtowns, the economic engines of our cities, scrambling to maintain vibrancy. Without downtown vibrancy and its resulting rising assessment value, cities, already underfunded to deal with their infrastructure deficits, face an uphill battle. In the face of this challenge, inexplicably, municipalities are going back to business as usual, provincial governments are ignoring their cities (or making poor decisions for them) and the Federal government still lacks any sort of ministry of urban affairs – something most other highly-urbanized nations have.

But all is not doom and gloom. We know that downtowns endure. Innovation comes from the collision of people, and that still happens best downtown. We know that though buildings and uses may change, downtown is the most adaptable part of the city. The question is: are governments going to proactively be part of the new city, or leave it to evolve on its own?

– Paul Mackinnon