Two of the country’s leading experts on urban policy say that Canada is falling behind the rest of the world in its ability for policy makers to access information on Canadian cities, a call that has become even more urgent in the face of COVID-19.
In a newly released report by the Canadian Urban Institute, Gabriel Eidelman, director of the Urban Policy Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and Neil Bradford, chair of political science at Huron University College at Western, argue that Canada needs to create a new national entity that houses the best available quantitative and qualitative data on cities, what they’re calling a Canadian urban policy observatory.
The observatory, if developed, would allow policy makers to easily compare data and policy approaches across Canadian cities and quickly adopt solutions already working in various parts of the country, the two argue in the report, something they say is essential as cities look towards COVID-19 recovery.
“As the federal and provincial governments turn their attention to post-COVID policy frameworks, they must learn from the frontline experiences of cities from across the country,” Eidelman and Bradford say. “Now is the time to bring all the available data we have on cities, all the different urban policy frameworks being tried in different jurisdictions, into a single place so policy makers can get a full picture of what’s working and what’s not across the country.”
The UN-Habitat and the OECD recently called on all countries to implement a “national urban policy” which they term an “essential instrument” in achieving sustainable development goals.
But the reality is that Canada has no national urban policy or the “one-stop-shop” entity that Bradford and Eidelman are calling for, unlike many other countries around the world.
“We need a coordinated and comprehensive platform that allows an urban policy maker, in say, Surrey, B.C., to easily find data and policy approaches being tried in St. John’s, N.L,” the researchers argue. “Without something like an urban policy observatory, we’re flying blind.”
The observatory, the two researchers propose, would be part repository, aggregator, clearing house and knowledge broker, and would collect, standardize, analyze, and publish qualitative and quantitative data on Canadian cities and, crucially, the political systems and policy frameworks that govern them.
Most importantly, the observatory would serve as a building block toward greater intergovernmental dialogue on urban priorities, bringing local challenges to the attention of upper-level governments, and highlighting opportunities for shared problem solving.
“COVID-19 has shown that people working at the local level are the wells of knowledge, with invaluable evidence that support appropriate interventions and policy,” said Mary W. Rowe, CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute, the national non-profit that released the report. “To support these efforts, we must ensure that decision makers and community leaders have timely access to the information required to lead our cities through this crisis and prepare for recovery and renewal.”