A Seat at the Table: Municipalities and Intergovernmental Relations in Canada
Municipalities are involved in an increasing number of policy areas – climate change, health care, economic development, immigration, Indigenous reconciliation, and more – that require work across, and cooperation among, multiple orders of government. However, municipalities remain largely absent from Canada’s system of intergovernmental relations. They are largely excluded from intergovernmental councils or committees, such as First Ministers’ Meetings or Ministerial tables. And they do not participate in the negotiation of most intergovernmental agreements.
In the final paper of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance’s Urban Project series, Tomas Hachard explores how Canada’s intergovernmental infrastructure could be reformed to include municipalities. Drawing on an analysis of how other countries have made space for municipalities in their intergovernmental processes, the paper offers four approaches to intergovernmental reform in Canada:
- Ensure municipalities have the capacity, voice, and structures to participate effectively in intergovernmental relations. This can be accomplished through investment in staff at the municipal level, investment in municipal associations, new regional governance structures, and more.
- Increase municipal involvement in provincial policymaking. Potential models include a formal, institutionalized council for provincial-municipal relations, a set of intergovernmental councils focused on priority policy issues, or enforceable provincial requirements to consult municipalities on matters that affect them.
- Eliminate unfunded mandates, through, for example, provincial legislation or provincial-municipal intergovernmental agreements that require consultation on the fiscal impacts of draft legislation or regulation and that allow any disagreements to be taken to court.
- Strengthen trilateral relations. Potential models include new location-specific or policy-specific trilateral agreements, sector-specific trilateral intergovernmental councils, or a general trilateral council that could be achieved through reform of the structure of First Ministers’ Meetings.
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