A National Urban Policy for Canada? Prospects and Challenges

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Cet article passe en revue les publications de 2002 du Groupe de travail du Premier ministre sur les questions urbaines. Il esquisse le role actuel du gouvernement federal en politique urbaine, decrit les tentatives precedentes de formuler une politique nationale en la matiere, en particulier sous la forme de l'ephemere Ministere d'Etat aux Affaires urbaines des annees soixante-dix, et il examine les recommandations du Groupe de travail a la lumiere des defis contemporains. Les rapports du Groupe de travail adoptent sans le critiquer le nouveau discours regionaliste de la competitivite. Les recommandations du rapport final sont jugees raisonnables en tant que telles. Mais certains problemes urbains particulierement inquietants qui relevent de la juridiction federale, notamment l'augmentation de la pauvrete en milieu urbain, sont negliges.

Mots cles : Canada, politique urbaine nationale, Groupe de travail du Premier ministre sur les questions urbaines, urbaine.

Abstract

This paper reviews the work of the Prime Minister's Caucus Task Force on Urban Issues which reported in November 2002. It outlines the current federal role in urban policy, describes earlier attempts to articulate a national policy, particularly through the short lived Ministry of State for Urban Affairs in the seventies, and examines the recommendations of the Task Force in the light of contemporary challenges. The reports of the Task Force adopt the new regionalist discourse of competitiveness uncritically. The recommendations of the final report are judged reasonable so far as they go. However, some of the more worrying problems of urban areas that are within federal jurisdiction, notably increasing urban poverty, are neglected.

Key words: Canada, National Urban Policy, Prime Minister's Caucus Task Force on Urban Issues, Task Force, Urban

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The recent publication of the Final Report of the Prime Minister's Caucus Task Force on Urban Issues inevitably leads to all sorts of speculations: Is there to be an articulated federal urban policy? What is a national urban policy? Why now? Are the recommendations sound? Should they be adopted? Is there any chance of their being adopted? If so, how?

The Prime Minister's Caucus Task Force on Urban Issues, inaugurated on May 9, 2001, presented an interim report in April 2002 and its final report in November 2002 (Task Force 2002a/b). Chaired by Judy Sgro, M.P. for York West, and made up of twelve liberal parliamentarians, including two from the Senate, it held round table meetings in eight major cities, (1) received briefs from many groups, including the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP), the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA), The Urban Development Institute (UDI), the Heritage Canada Foundation, Pollution Probe, and from many municipalities, associations, citizens groups, urban experts and individuals.

The recommendations of the Task Force focus on three priority program areas: affordable housing, transportation, both regional and transit, and sustainable infrastructure. In the interests of improving coordination, coherence and efficiency in matters relating to urban development, it proposes the designation of a Minister responsible for Urban Regions, the establishment of an external Advisory Body to work with the Minister on urban policies, a National Urban Summit to include provincial ministers responsible for urban affairs, and the institutionalising of a best practices data base and serious research perhaps through a university network or institute.

The purpose of this paper is to address some of the questions raised about the work of the Task Force and to attempt to position them in the context of contemporary Canadian urban development. It is divided into five parts. The first briefly looks at the federal role in cities and towns, the second at the history of federal intervention, the third examines the Task Force proposals in more detail, comparing them to the activities of the short lived Ministry of State for Urban Affairs (MSUA) (1971-1979), the fourth section evaluates the proposals, and the conclusion speculates on the future. …