Even as late as the 1980s, if you were to paint a defining portrait of Canada, it would probably involve rolling fields of wheat, lakes, a moose and vast expanses of blue sky. Today, the image of Canada is a different one, shaped by rapidly evolving cities that are more dynamic than ever.
Today and tomorrow I’ll be joining 21 other ‘big city’ mayors from across Canada at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Big Cities Summit to talk about rethinking Canada’s future through its cities. There’s good reason for that: today, 80% of Canada’s population lives in an urban setting and in Alberta, for example, 67% of our economic activity occurs in Edmonton and Calgary. Cities matter, now more than ever.
Cities are increasingly leaders, pioneers and innovators. Because we’re the crossroads where capital (money) and population (people) intersect, our cities have become living labs where new ideas quickly connect with the fuel to make them possible. The answer to almost every complicated question can be found in cities. As an example, in the 1990s we saw a growing crisis with our landfill capacity; today, we are on track to divert almost 90% of our waste from the landfill and we’re beginning to export that expertise around the world. Another example is rapid transit, which is an answer to some of the congestion, air quality and greenhouse gas emissions issues facing our country.
With a looming federal election, a national dialog about building great cities is timely.
Today’s discussions with my colleagues are focused on issues of key economic importance to our cities. In short, the need for a plan. Any plan. How can we cut down on the kind of gridlock that is costing us billions in lost economic activity? What is the long-term solution for declining federal investment in social housing, including the $25 million in housing subsidies that are set to expire, directly impacting the viability of 11,500 of Edmonton’s social housing units? If Canada’s cities are going to continue to drive our country’s economic prosperity, these are the kinds of questions that federal political parties will need to answer to be relevant to city-dwelling voters.
It’s fair to say that Canada’s future prosperity is linked to the fate of its cities. The work we’re doing to diversify Edmonton’s economy – through entrepreneurialism, incubation and technology transfer – is the kind of work that makes our country more resilient and competitive. National (and Provincial) governments that see where the new economy is being built, and are willing to invest in their urban centres to support our growth, will create the best conditions for Canada to compete for capital and talent.
The hope is that our discussions over the next few days will draw attention to the most pressing needs of cities across Canada, and further empower our ability to be remarkable engines for our future prosperity, shaping and changing how our entire country is perceived.