CPSA 2016 Annual Conference Programme

Canadian Political Science Association

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May 31 to June 2, 2016
University of Calgary
Calgary, AB


Local and Urban Politics


Session: E10 - Roundtable: City Charters


Date: Jun 1, 2016 | Time: 03:45pm to 05:15pm | Location: Science Theatres 132 | iCal iOS / Outlook



Chair/Président: Aaron Moore (University of Winnipeg)



Participants & Authors/Auteurs: (Click titles for Abstract and Paper.)arrow

Alison Smith (Université de Montréal), Zachary Spicer (Brock University) : Who Gives? Who Takes?: Evaluating City Charters in Canada


Abstract: Over the past decade, discussion around city charters has increased. Seen primarily as a method of increasing local autonomy and enhancing policy capacity, city charters have been sought after many numerous local governments in Canada. Four cities in Canada currently have independent legislation that could be seen as a charter: Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg and St. John’s. Others, such as Calgary and Edmonton, have recently called for independent city charters. What, however, is the effect of city charters? In this paper we examine Canada’s four city charters and compare the provisions provided by each provincial government to the provisions that are actually utilized by each charter city. We group these provisions using three categories: legal-administrative provisions, financial provisions and political provisions. Overall, we find that while provincial governments have not provided many additional powers and responsibilities through Charter legislation, the charter cities have also not been apt to fully utilize the powers they have been granted. In a sense, little is given and little is taken. We argue that this is primarily due to the restricted financial autonomy of cities. We explore these findings in detail and make the argument that Canada’s charter politics have revolved more around increasing the perception of local autonomy and creating distinctions between large and small cities rather than fully increasing local autonomy for Canada’s largest urban centres.


Stephanie Kusie (Executive Director, Common Sense Calgary)

Joseph Garcea (University of Saskatchewan)

Alan Broadbent (Avana Capital Corporation and Maytree)

Andrew Sancton (Western University)


Charters for Cities: A Mechanism for Stronger CIties in Canada or the Illusion of Autonomy

Over a decade after Canada’s big city mayors demanded a “new deal for cities,” many of Canada’s largest cities continue to have the same authority and autonomy from provincial government as the country’s smallest municipal governments. Incremental changes to the authority of some cities has done little to alleviate the sense that city governments lack the necessary tools to adequately address the needs of their growing population. This sentiment has resulted in renewed demands for special recognition of Canada’s largest cities in the form of a city charters. However, in a country where provincial governments lack constitutions and discussion of amending the federal constitution is an anathema, can city charters rooted in provincial legislation really provide Canada’s cities with the autonomy and authority they need? This roundtable seeks to address this question.