Strengthening the Social Foundations of Canadian Cities

Prepared for the Cities Secretariat, Privy Council Office

Project Completion

August 2004


Cities across Canada are facing external and domestic challenges resulting from a range of factors including economic restructuring, the globalization of competition, and the rapid growth of information and communication technologies. Worse still, federal and provincial governments have for almost two decades been downloading service delivery to the municipal level without providing cities with the concomitant ability to pay for those additional services. In effect, the problems of Canadian cities are rooted in the growing mismatch between municipal responsibilities and the policy resources to act. At the same time, there is a growing understanding that the multi-dimensional and inter-jurisdictional nature of the issues facing cities requires new thinking and approaches to governance. A number of departments and agencies with a role to play in the social foundations of cities have been involved in trying to develop a policy framework on priority issues affecting the social foundations of Canadian cities. These departments and agencies include: Canadian Heritage, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Health Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development and the Homelessness Secretariat, Social Development, Justice, Industry Canada, Statistics Canada, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, Policy Research Initiative, and the National Library.

Purpose of the Paper

The purpose of the Strengthening the Social Foundations of Canadian Cities paper prepared by the New Economy Development Group was to develop a policy analysis and recommendations on priority issues affecting the social foundations of Canadian cities, as well as to identify new incentive approaches and the challenges to moving forward. NEDG also sought to identify instructive practices that related to the particular challenges faced by cities across Canada. As well, the analysis sought to determine whether there was a need for a new and different role for various levels of government and Canadian citizens.


Two methods of data collection were used in this analysis: a document review and departmental seminars. NEDG began with an intensive literature review that examined relevant documentation, following that up with two seminars attended by all the federal stakeholder departments held in February and March of 2004. This input was used to analyze the current situation of Canadian cities and the role of departments, governments, and individual citizens in the improvement or deterioration of cities.


The literature review was used to study the past and present issues related to the social foundations of Canadian cities and to pinpoint instructive problems and/or solutions. The seminars were essential in order to analyze the social foundations of Canadian cities; they helped NEDG develop a policy analysis that would aid the departments in their goal of strengthening Canadian cities. By seeking the opinions of those who were directly involved in the management of Canadian cities, the New Economy Development Group was able to prepare an analysis and write a set of recommendations aimed at helping the relevant departments re-examine the situation of Canadian cities.