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mars 2013
  • Intergovernmental Affairs:

    dilsora fozilThe Importance of Provincial Support for the Success of Local Government Innovations to Improve the Management of Modern Government in Canada

    Author: Dilsora Fozilova


    Federal-provincial affairs have long been considered the defining feature of Canadian intergovernmental relations. However, in recent years, there have been some significant changes in the character of relationships; specifically of municipalities increasingly playing critical roles in intergovernmental relations in Canada. The driving force behind the acceleration of this process is the recent significant growth of Canada’s major urban centers and cities, some of which are larger than provinces in terms of size and population. In last twenty years, innovative programs of the municipalities have demonstrated the significance of municipal governance in federalism.

    Compared to federal and provincial governments, municipal governments are able to address local issues more efficiently through adaptable solutions. Furthermore, municipal governance and the public service play an important role in the lives of citizens as the providers of many direct social services. Municipalities have the potential for a better established relationship with citizens than any other government branches in Canada. Fast growing cities require changes, and the changes are possible through innovation. Regardless of the outcomes, local governments are obligated to strive towards constant innovation; even if only one fifth of implemented programs are successful, there is still movement forward instead of remaining in stagnant and unproductive ways of governance. However, there are significant barriers standing in the way of local governments to create such programs and apply them to public policy. The first barrier involves the high risk associated with new innovation and the possibility of failure, and provincial government officials tend to play safe and avoid the risk of supporting these kinds of innovative ventures. The second barrier to innovative programs is the scarcity of public funds, as contemporary municipalities often find it hard enough just to support existing basic needs. It is much more difficult and expensive to spend money on innovation when there is the looming possibility of failure.

    Analysis of intergovernmental relations, more specifically examining provincial and municipal government affairs, is useful for understanding barriers to innovation processes. Louise Brown and Stephen Osborne state the importance of effective risk-taking or risk management to successful innovations saying, “a positive engagement with risk is an essential prerequisite of the effective management of risk in innovation in public services. It cannot be removed, but rather governed in practice”.1 Therefore, it is very important for both provincial and federal governments to empower local government innovations by removing obstacles and supporting those who fail. Analyzing the role of intergovernmental relations in innovative programs of local governments is the main focus of this paper. In this paper, we will explore the importance of innovations in municipal governments.

    Understanding innovations

    Scholars Louise Brown and Stephen Osborne defined innovations as “the intentional introduction and application within a role, group or organization of ideas, processes, products or procedures, new to the relevant unit of adoption, designed to significantly benefit the individual, the group organization or wider society”.2 Innovation is a new way of doing things with the intention of improvement. Obviously, the main reason for forming such innovative programs is to bring some kind of change to service, production or social life. Innovations are usually followed by environmental, societal and institutional contingencies to make positive changes in a particular area of society. Recent academic literature states that only 20 percent of such innovative programs are successful.3 It is evident that innovations involve high risk, but the successful 20 percent of these innovations have the potential to make remarkable changes in society. As good management of risk is essential to its completion, it is essential that projects are evaluated and thoughtfully planned before they are applied in practice. In some cases, even when the evidence of effectiveness has been proved in alternate settings, to reduce risk, the same project has to be analyzed and tested under new circumstances/settings again. However careful analysis is the key factor to indicate where the majority of risks will occur during the implementation process.

    Intergovernmental Relations: Why Provincial Governments are the Main Decision Maker for Local Government Innovations
    Economic well-being is the most significant factor for a city’s growth and the improvement of products and services. However, how can municipalities improve their economic well-being if they have a severely restricted autonomy? Many municipal bylaws/regulations cannot come into effect without the approval of the provincial government; and municipal borrowing for capital projects is strictly controlled by the province. Usually, a province’s Department of Municipal Affairs, or the provincially appointed municipal board will make the big decisions for municipalities. Such limited sovereignty raises question about the democratic liability of municipal governments.

    It can be assumed the large and powerful municipalities may complicate intergovernmental relations and political approaches to governing the state because “many provincial ministers and bureaucrats think of municipalities as just another interest group seeking to pressure the province into particular policy decisions”4. Large cities, like large corporations, have their own way of doing business. They have their own complex problems and programs that fit their structure. Environmental, social and economic conditions differ from city to city, and the need for innovation increases with the size of the city. However, provincial governments are not always supportive and what the province wants from municipal governments is to play the traditional role of doing what the provincial government want them to do.

    The difference between politics and public administration is that the former is the government’s decision-making component and the latter is the application arm of those decisions in reality. Although provinces still maintain ultimate authority, the importance of municipal governance, particularly the need for local governments’ innovation programs is becoming more and more obvious in Canadian federalism. These changes also can be observed in recent academic works. For example, in his “Unbundling Sovereignty”, Elkins challenges his readers by asking them to imagine a borderless federalism.5 If federalism did not have a border, the regions and the municipal governments would be the ones to make adaptations according to their climate, environment, economic circumstances and social needs. Elkins’ philosophical challenge points to the importance of local government. If all politics is local, as Elkins’ would argue, then why do local governments lack the financial independence to make necessary changes?

    As mentioned above, traditional public administration serves as the performing component of the government. As
    Barbara Carroll states, “Governments may decide what to do but someone or something has to make it happen and that is what public administration is about – making it happen.”6 The study of municipal administration confirms, due to long years of fixed governing techniques, and intergovernmental and constitutional arrangements, that municipal power is derived from provincial authority. The main financial, structural and theoretical decisions about municipalities are made in provincial and federal governments. According to Section 92(8) of the Constitution Act of 1867, ”In each province the legislature may exclusively make laws in relation to… municipal institutions in the province.”7 Although cities play an important role in the economic, social and environmental well-being of the region, many cities are challenged with a scarcity of financial resources. As Dr. Lightbody stated “In times of financial exigency, or in extreme instances of moral or ethical turpitude, provincial government have always been prepared to intervene directly as necessary to restore economic confidence in the city or to dismiss the offending local authorities”8.

    Provincial interests always come first, and only when municipal affairs are deemed critical to the province’s interests, will the provincial government take initiative in negotiating or interceding for required changes. As Robert Young states, instead of gaining more authority over decisions, in some cases “municipal governments have increasingly becoming agents of provincial policy”.9 For example, the British Columbia government played an important role in planning the infrastructure for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The main decisions were made by the federal and provincial governments, and the city of Vancouver followed the decisions made by them to plan arrangements for this costly business. The Olympics were a unique event, but Alberta’s creation of the Capital Region Board is another example where the province’s decision making power over cities is blatantly obvious. Alberta’s Capital Region Board was structured in order to address conflicts between the city of Edmonton and its satellite communities by the province of Alberta. Dr. Lightbody states, “Annexations and amalgamations remain under the powerful scrutiny of various arms’ length municipal boards, and municipalities must, by law, balance their annual operating budgets, barring extreme circumstances that may warrant specific exemption by the provincial government”10. However, not all provinces have developed the same approaches to municipalities. Some provincial governments have retained significant control over municipal governance and the structure of municipal government, while others try to hold a better provincial-municipal governing balance. The divergence between different provincial-municipal affairs plays a confirming role that better intergovernmental relationships are possible.

    According to the Alberta Municipal Government Act, the provincial government has a responsibility to assist municipalities in the provision of well managed, collaborative and accountable local government, implementing a safe environment for the construction and maintenance of buildings, and managing Alberta’s network of municipal system boards.11 The act, which was passed in 1994, was supposed to grant greater autonomy and broader authority to municipalities through assigning spheres of jurisdiction; it was intended to give power to municipal councils for developing and evaluating locally important programs and policies. The main purpose of the act was to form a government that could provide effective services and facilities that are necessary and enviable for citizens. Another goal behind this act was to develop and maintain safe and feasible communities in Alberta. However, the changes were more evident on paper than in practice. Local governments’ innovative programs are still highly controlled, and in extreme cases, cancelled in the middle by the provincial governments. Examples of some cases will elucidate the differing attitude of provincial governments toward local governments’ innovative programs.

    Current Projects Give Hope!

    The present Alberta municipal system consists of cities, towns, villages, summer villages, municipal districts, and specialized municipalities. The Alberta Municipal Government Act intended to grant municipalities legal authority to act as separate units and to allow greater flexibility in policy development and implementation. Unfortunately, municipal innovative programs to improve their economic and social wellbeing are often introduced by petitioning the provincial government. The outcomes of innovations are not predictable at the beginning. Some of will succeed and bring great changes to society but some may fail to attain the original goal. In the 1990s, with the assistance of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties and the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, Alberta Municipal Affairs developed a guideline for changes. In the same year, different but similarly structured programs were implemented in many municipalities of Canada. For example, Alberta municipalities formed a “Let’s Resolve” program while Ajax, Ontario introduced the S.T.A.R. $ (Saving Town of Ajax Real Dollar$) Program in order to balance out the municipal budget.

    Alberta’s “Let’s Resolve” program was initiated to design effective conflict resolution systems within and between municipalities. The program included a variety of workshops, the creation of the Peer Network and an Advisory Committee. According to the Alberta Municipal Affairs website, the program has been recognized with three Premier’s Awards of Excellence, including bronze awards in 2000 and 2002, and a silver award in 2008 for the creation of the Public Input Toolkit. In 2008, the program received a Canada Award of Excellence, silver, from the National Quality Institute, and Bill Diepeveen, the Manager of Municipal Dispute Resolution Services, was also awarded the national Lionel J. McGowan Award of Excellence in Dispute Resolution from the ADR Institute of Canada. If these awards are used to describe the success of the program, the results seem promising.

    STAR$ Program in Ajax Ontario

    An innovative approach to governance in Ajax, Ontario is another great example of improvement in municipal governments and the increasing role of municipalities in intergovernmental relations. Ajax is a fast growing, small city located outside of Toronto. In 1994 and 1995, Ajax was faced with a severe budgetary shortfall. This economic downturn was a contingency for changes and Ajax’s local government introduced the STAR$ Program as a means of balancing the budget. The program asked the city’s 500 employees to come up with at least two ideas for reducing costs or increasing revenues without cutting services or laying off workers. The program delegated decision-making and creative processes to all levels of service. The program resulted in the submission of over 3000 employee-developed ideas. The STAR$ Program took it seriously: they evaluated the best ideas, created a risk management plan, and applied them to social process. The program contributed 1.6 million towards the budget.12The participants who came up with best ideas were rewarded and the ideas were implemented.

    During this program, Ajax also developed a client-centred model of service delivery: a sophisticated management system of investigating and tracking client complaints together with stringent accountability standards. An efficient approval process for commercial and residential development through coordinating engineering, building inspection and planning considerations resulted in a 50% reduction in cost.13 Based on these innovations, Ajax was the first municipality in Canada to receive the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 9000 certification: recognition that the city, as an organization, effectively meets the needs of clients14.

    Because of the STAR$ Program, the municipality avoided layoffs and subsequently boosted morale, which was furthered by the bonuses given to the public servants whose ideas saved and generated money. City official Richard Parisotto stated that, “this program created a cultural change unlike anything I have ever seen. Now we ask staff not to check their brains at the door but to contribute their innovative ideas for improving the way things are done.”15 In 1997, Ajax was officially certified with an ISO 9001 quality program. Such quality programs were organized to help organizations overcome customer service issues and low productivity.

    These examples, supported by New Public Management (NPM) theorists, are examples of the de-layering of bureaucratic hierarchy to produce a more creative and responsive horizontal system of management. Stanford Borins argued that New Public Management/horizontal system of management is less a philosophy and more an efficient and innovative approach to private and public administration. Programs such as Alberta’s “Let’s Resolve” and Ajax’s “STAR$” provide citizen-centred services, increase the autonomy of public administrators, and set performance targets as a means of measuring output and rewarding success. At the same time, Donald Savoie criticized such positive views on local government’s innovative programs. He argued that private sector philosophies should only play a minor role in public administration because the public service is unique and private sector lessons therefore, simply do not apply16. Ajax has been seen as a model of efficient local governance. The success of the program was due to the positive attitude of the local government towards new ideas, a well-planned project process, effective risk management, and most importantly, the support of the provincial government.

    Welfare-to-Work Program in Winnipeg

    Due to increasingly globalized and open economies and the increasing need for innovative approaches to governance, Canadian governance is often pursued through arrangements that bypass the constitutional division of powers. Christopher Leo and Todd Andres provide an insightful analysis of the significance of local initiatives to the success of federally and provincially financed programs in “Deep Federalism through Local Initiative: Unbundling Sovereignty in Winnipeg”. Deep federalism involves all levels of government structure so that it can pursue national objectives while maintaining the ability and flexibility to meet more regional or local needs. As previously discussed, the trend towards regional/decentralized approaches to governance is motivated by the “borderless world economy”.17 Leo and Andres refer to this as the unbundling of sovereignty, “a process of de-centring the state” that not only involves deeper forms of federalism, but also the inclusion of non-state partners through, for example, private-public initiates18. Leo and Andres argue that the municipal initiative was essential to the success of the federally and provincially financed Welfare-to-Work program in Winnipeg.

    The Leo and Andres study looks at Welfare-to-Work programs initiated by municipalities throughout the 1990s as an example of creative, yet effective approaches used to create more constructive and flexible systems of social assistance that could be tailored to the requirements of individual communities. Welfare-to-Work jobs are characterized by free training, guaranteed employment for welfare receivers, and the potential to lead to longer-term employment. The wages offered were in line with minimum wage standards. Analysing the background circumstances indicated that during the recessionary period of 1994, one in eleven Winnipeggers was getting government assisted money or welfare. The high school dropout rate was as high as 45 percent and 64 percent of jobs required at least 13 years of education19. Russ Simmonds, the city’s Director of Social Services, proposed and implemented several programs aimed at reducing welfare recipients through providing job training and employment that was longer term in nature. Unfortunately, the program did not provide the rapid results that the provincial government anticipated. According to the program, the city had responsibility over this welfare issue, and therefore became involved in a “Tri-level partnership” with both provincial and federal governments20.

    The program aimed to reduce the welfare dependency of the citizens of Winnipeg and to address the local job market need by offering welfare recipients paid employment as well as on the job training which could potentially translate to longer term employment and more marketable skill sets. The government of Winnipeg identifies Dutch elm disease control and an infrastructure renewal program as suitable candidates to co-operate with Welfare-to-Work Program. Through following-up with participants, Leo and Andres’ research found that the former welfare recipients who obtained employment through the Welfare-to-Work Program had an impressive record of long term reintegration into the work place. Although the Welfare-to-Work Program would save the provincial government a significant amount of money in the long term while remarkably reducing long-term welfare dependency, the provincial government became dissatisfied with the program because some of the projects, including the renewed infrastructure project, came in under budget. The provincial Progressive Conservative government viewed the unionized wages paid to program participants as being too high. The ideological differences between the three levels of governments played a critical role in the discontinuation of the innovation. The Manitoba provincial government preferred projects that paid minimum wage, or workfare, and so it replaced the municipality’s Welfare-to-Work with the program called “Workfare”.
    The province aimed to simplify administrative processes by provincially controlling welfare, however their alternative programs such as Employment Insurance provided little opportunity for education or job training. The municipal approach to welfare was more successful than the provincial approach because the municipality was able to better understand community needs and the local job market. As Canada’s economy becomes more globalized, it is essential for the Canadian workforce to be flexible. Industries evolve, grow and decline, therefore in order to remain competitive, workers and their attitudes toward work must be flexible. Workers must become more mobile and develop skills so that they are capable of transitioning from dying industries to stable, emerging ones. A significant part of changing attitudes involves eliminating the current culture of Employment Insurance entitlement.
    Some of the federally and the provincially adapted programs are stable, however they are not as efficient as municipal innovations. For example, Employment Insurance, as its name implies, is intended to provide insurance or a safety net to those who find themselves temporarily unemployed. All employees contribute to the program, and have the potential to receive its benefits if they have the unfortunate circumstance of being out of work. The purpose of Employment Insurance is to temporarily support people as they search for new employment. Unfortunately, many people have been using it as an alternative to long-term employment, essentially as a form of government subsidy for seasonal and temporary workers. This situation, in which individuals who work 14 weeks per year receive Government cheques for the remaining 38, has led to the paradox wherein Canada’s unemployment rate is relatively high despite the existence of hundreds of thousands of available jobs across the country, many of which are ultimately filled with foreign labour.


    Innovation projects implemented by local governments can only succeed when the provincial and federal governments are onboard, as these governments still remain the dominant decision makers in the Canadian Federal System. The tendency to centralize welfare provincially means that the ability to repeat this type of program is limited without delegation of power to municipalities. Even though it was discontinued, the success that Welfare-to-Work program in Winnipeg saw in the short time it was in place shows that innovative programs benefit from localized governance and these issues should fall under municipal jurisdiction.

    In recent decades, the position of local governments in intergovernmental relations has changed. Local governments have proved the importance through the success of their innovative municipal programs where utilizing innovative techniques often improved economic, social and environmental conditions. However, because of the risk and scarcity of funds involved in innovations, many proposals of the municipalities are turned down or cancelled by provincial officials. Changing laws and principles about intergovernmental affairs seems to be more powerful on paper than in practice. Therefore, innovative changes should be started in governmental structures to increase the autonomy of local governments.


    Barbara, Carroll. ”as cited in Aucoin, Peter, The New Public Management – Canada in Comparative Perspective.” Institute for Research on Public Policy. (1995): 167

    Brown, Louise, and Stephen Osborne. ”Risk and Innovation.” Public Management Review. 15. no. 2 (2013): 185-23.

    Elkins, David. Beyond Sovereignty: Territory and Political Economy in the
    Twenty-First Century. Toronto: University of Toronto. 1995.

    Leo, Christopher, and Todd Andres. ”Deep Federalism through Local Initiative: Unbundling Sovereignty in Winnipeg.” Canadian Journal of Political Science. 41. no. 1 (2008): 93-117.

    Lightbody, James. City Politics, Canada. Canada: Broadview Press Ltd, 2005

    O’Brien, Allan, ed. The Canadian Encyclopaedia. 2012. s.v. ”Municipal-Provincial Relations.” http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/municipalprovincial-relations (accessed March 13, 2013).

    Town of Ajax, ”Town of Ajax by the lake.” Last modified 2012. Accessed March 13, 2013. http://www.ajax.ca/en/insidetownhall/qualitymanagement.asp.

    Province of Alberta, ”Revised Statutes of Alberta 2000.” Last modified November 24, 2010. Accessed March 12, 2013. http://www.qp.alberta.ca/documents/Acts/m26.pdf

    Young , Robert. Conference on Municipal-Federal-Provincial Relations:, ”Provincial Involvement in Municipal-Federal Relations.” Last modified 2003. Accessed March 15, 2013. http://www.queensu.ca/iigr/conf/Arch/03/03-2/Young.pdf.


    Published on mars 19, 2013 · Filed under: Тадқиқот;
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