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Pushing to Include the Urban Agenda

Both the Star and the Globe and Mail have afternoon updates on their websites about David Miller's comments in a meeting in Québec City today. Actually, it's the same article, from the Canadian Press. Here's some of it:

The pre-election positioning by Prime Minister Paul Martin appears to be an attempt to appeal to more Canadians, but Mr. Miller said Mr. Martin needs to keep his eye on the 10 largest Canadian cities.

“I'm concerned that they [the Liberals] changed their language from cities to communities,” said Mr. Miller, who spoke to a Quebec City business group and met with Mayor Jean-Paul L'Allier.

“Communities need services too, but cities need city-building initiatives. They have to be paid attention to as cities.”

Mr. Martin's government has promised a so-called new deal for Canada‘s largest cities, which range from Toronto with 2.5 million residents to 650,000 in Quebec City.

“I'm a bit worried too,” said Mr. L'Allier. “The federal government, Mr. Martin and company, are in an electoral campaign and they're changing their language, replacing cities with communities. A community can be very small.”

On this blog I have said time and again that I'm worried more about what Queen's Park does about this issue than Ottawa. And if Ottawa spreads the benefits of new programs to other, smaller, communities for political or fairness reasons, I won't really mind a whole lot.

Any talk about constitutional change to address the imbalance of municipal responsibilities to municipal capabilities is a non-starter, despite Miller's legitimate point:

[Cities] also need new powers, including a seat at negotiations with the provinces and federal government, he said.

“You cannot treat Toronto the same way as the smallest village in Ontario,” Mr. Miller said. “Today the legal powers that govern us are the same. That makes no sense. We're bigger than most provinces.”

Nevertheless, I think it is a smart move for Miller to be applying this polite pressure right now.

First of all, the time is right. In other years different things have been on the agenda and will be again, but now urban issues have risen as one key item. If the opportunity isn't taken to make some improvements, then it will be missed.

Secondly, it looks very likely that there will be a federal election soon. As Paul Wells has expertly documented, Paul Martin has promised a lot of everything to everybody. These promises are going to have to rationalized somehow, and it would seem that the promises most likely to be kept are those that become relevant to getting re-elected.

So, if the urban agenda is going to go somewhere in Ottawa, it is only going to happen if the issue is an election issue, and if it is important enough to put some city seats into play. It's not going to happen if everyone is quiet about this in the next couple months and lets Martin get away with not saying anything specific. I'm certain that if circumstances don't force Martin to say something specific, he won't -- and then won't do much of anything, either.

As an aside, I don't understand how this talk (in the CP article) of "10 largest cities" squares with the statement that they "range from Toronto with 2.5 million residents to 650,000 in Quebec City." Those numbers would imply municipal (rather than metro area) populations, in which case, Hamilton is the 10th largest (post Quebec amalgamation), and it is under 500k. On the other hand, if they are talking about metro population, the top ten range from Toronto (at 4.7 million in 2001) to London (at about 430k).



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