As part of its monthly Northern Public Policy Book Review Forum, the IPAC NWT Regional Group is pleased to present the following review for the month of March:

Canada in Cities is a compilation of nine federal-municipal policy case studies in which editors Graham and Andrew explore different aspects of Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT)-municipal relations. In particular, they track the shift from a classic federal FPT-municipal diagnostic to a more critical, multilevel governance approach. As a review of contemporary federal-municipal relations, Canada in Cities poses research questions which are also relevant to Federal-Territorial-Aboriginal government relations in Northern Canada.

In Canada in Cities the case studies themselves are drawn from a body of research originally published in the fall 2009 edition of Canadian Public Administration. They offer a concise overview of federal-municipal policy engagements occurring prior to and immediately following the election of the 2006 Conservative minority government. Traditionally, FTP-municipal relations have been the purview of provincial and territorial governments. Recently, they have evolved to encompass a wide range of Aboriginal government, civil society and market sector interactions. In Canada in Cities we see how the federal government has worked with or around existing constitutional norms to address new local and regional needs and priorities, driven by such factors as changing demographics, the role of social forces, and the emergence of new institutions and processes. These studies offer insights into how we might account for such novel responses within the traditional FTP-municipal model, and as a corollary, they challenge our current understanding of FPT roles and responsibilities.

As Graham and Andrew note, the SSHRC’s public policy and municipal research initiative, from which these studies are drawn, did not specifically direct investigators to study any one aspect of federal-municipal policy interventions. Accordingly, the editors successfully capitalize upon this diversity by selecting studies which challenge our understanding of the FTP-municipal model in some way. In their introductory chapter the editors suggest questions for the reader to consider, such as: how do changing narrative ‘frames’ signal changes in FTP policy over time? How does the choice of policy instrument influence program outcomes? And, how do external factors, such as demographics, function as drivers of change? Collectively, the selection of studies itself poses the question: how have all of the above helped shape contemporary FPT-municipal relations?

The answer to these questions is offered up in the studies themselves. For example, Graham and Andrew cite Adams and Maslove (Gas Tax Cessation, chapter 5) as an example of how the choice of “policy instrument” can produce novel policy outcomes that change the underlying nature of the federal-municipal relationship. In 2004, the federal Liberal government’s “New Deal for Cities and Communities” skirted direct negotiations with the provinces and territories on financial transfers by choosing a modified form of contribution agreement in order to reach out directly to municipalities. In eschewing the traditional FPT conditional grant transfer process, and sourcing funds directly from the federal government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund, the Liberal government created a new regime for direct federal transfers to communities (Adams and Maslove, 107).

Elsewhere, Graham and Andrew (Conclusion, chapter 11) show that the choice of policy instrument can not only create new opportunities for federal-municipal transfers, but may also impose new regimes of accountability. For example, they cite Champagne (Tracking Growth of the Federal Municipal Infrastructure Program under Different Political Regimes, chapter 7) to show how the Gas Tax Fund transfer agreement’s requirement that communities prepare Integrated Community Sustainability Plans spurred communities in the Northwest Territories to start thinking strategically about their futures.

External influences are the third factor discussed by Graham and Andrew. They suggest demographics, civil society, and the private sector, all have the potential to influence FTP political objectives and the trajectory of federal-municipal relations itself. They cite Andrew and Abdourhamane Hima (Federal Policies on Immigrant Settlement, chapter 9) on the role of francophone minority communities as a civil society actor in the refugee resettlement process can change the dynamic of the FTP-municipal relationship.

Graham and Andrew also suggest that understanding how parties to FTP-municipal agreements use policy “frames” may be helpful in tracking the evolution of federal-municipal relations over time. By “frames” they mean significant shifts of focus within “policy fields” which might go unnoticed if viewed only from a classic federal FTP perspective (i.e., where FTP “domains” as fields of action are aligned with federal and provincial constitutional powers). For example, citing Neil Bradford’s analysis of the Liberal government’s “New Deal for Communities” (The Federal ‘Communities’ Agenda, chapter 2), they suggest that, although there may be resistance to refocusing research to include “meta-governance” precepts, multilevel governance outcomes constitute an important dimension of the success of many contemporary FTP-municipal endeavours. Accordingly, the multilevel government diagnostic is one way to track and understand changes taking place within the federal-municipal policy arena, even if “multilevel governance” as a concept (i.e., multilevel government) is never realized (274-76).

In Canada in Cities, the selection of case studies itself is sufficient to demonstrate that federal-municipal relations are affected by a complex array of factors and interactions which, taken together, constitute an expanded FTP arena. The argument for “reframing” the FTP policy diagnostic itself to admit consideration of multilevel governance concepts is implicit in the selection of case studies. Less clear is how Graham and Andrew’s use the term “frames”, interpreted as short-term political objectives, relates to the longer-term, historical narratives upon which FTP relations are built. Citing Abel and Andrew’s article (Urban Aboriginal Policy, chapter 10) “frames”, at different points in history, may be both constitutive of the continuum of FTP-municipal relations, or formative, as dictated by market, social forces or demography. In other words, learning by governments is, at one and the same time, both actively incorporated into decision-making and purchased at the price of bitter experience.

Citing Filion and Sanderson’s case study of interagency competition in the redevelopment of the Toronto Waterfront (Institutional Arrangements and Planning Outcomes, chapter 6), Graham and Andrew suggest one possible explanation. Shortcomings in FTP-municipal relations are not always the product of poor decisions in terms of the framing of policy objectives or choice of policy instruments. They may also arise from “path dependency” upon traditional machinery of government processes for implementation. By using the term “frame” to identify situations where the boundaries between “policy fields” and “interventions” blur, Graham and Andrew signal that structural adaptation is one of the hallmarks of learning within the multilevel governance paradigm.

For Northern observers, Canada in Cities ably demonstrates the value of the case study method as a tool for contributing to our overall understanding of a rapidly evolving FTP-municipal arena. Given the renewed focus on land claim and self-government implementation in all three Northern Territories, the lessons learned from the FTP-municipal experiments with multilevel governance cited in this reader seem especially relevant.


This review was authored by David Roddick, who is an independent researcher and consultant living in Ottawa.  This review was prepared for Northern Public Affairs magazine by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) NWT Regional Group.  Please note the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of IPAC.

Northern Public Policy Book Review Forum
The Northern Public Policy Book Review Forum is an initiative of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada’s Northwest Territories Regional Group (IPAC-NWT) which reviews of leading academic publications with implications for public administrators and policy with a special emphasis on Northern issues.

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