Broadbent, Turner discuss urbanization in Canada and the United States
On July 17, GMF hosted a luncheon in the Cannon House Building on Capitol Hill with Alan Broadbent, the chairman of the Maytree Foundation, and Congressman Michael Turner (R-OH). Mr. Broadbent opened the event by discussing his recent book, Urban Nation. In addition to highlighting the book's main points, he offered ways in which its prescriptions for empowering Canadian cities can be applied to an American context. Mr. Broadbent is a long-time supporter of community development efforts in the Toronto-region foundation. The foundation is focused primarily on poverty reduction and immigrant inclusion. Representative Turner is the former Mayor of Dayton, Ohio and an active member of the House of Representatives' Urban Caucus.
After an introduction from Karen Donfried, Executive Vice President of the German Marshall Fund, Mr. Broadbent began by giving a brief history of Canada's dual trends of urbanization and immigration. As a result of its constitution (framed when the country was overwhelmingly rural), Mr. Broadbent argued that Canada is ill-equipped to deal with the current reality of being an urban nation — one whose population is now 80% city-dwellers. Further complicating the effort to improve urban policy is the fact that Canadian cities are given very little autonomy to address their problems, especially in the realm of revenue building.
Furthermore, the current electoral system gives rural voters disproportionate representation in Parliament and ensures that the conversation (and the policies) stays focused on areas of the country where the majority of the population no longer live. Powerful, effective cities, Mr. Broadbent argued, would serve not only the interests of the cities themselves, but would serve the country as a whole, allowing it to live up to its potential as an urban nation.
Having previously read the book, Representative Turner offered his response and thoughts. While generally agreeing with Mr. Broadbent's call for greater empowerment of cities, Mr. Turner cautioned against placing too much confidence in local taxing power as a method for economic revitalization. He noted that this can result in suburban border municipalities siphoning off businesses and residents through the enticement of lower taxes. Mr. Turner also echoed Mr. Broadbent's concern that urban voters are underrepresented at the federal level and their cities not given the federal attention they deserve. He called for more federal capital investment in regional areas so that cities, which often bear the burden of costs from beyond their municipal borders, are better able to provide the services necessary for economic and social vitality.
The event provided many in the local and federal government, non-profit, and think-tank community the opportunity to learn from each other and to think and talk about the ways in which Canada and the U.S. differ in their approach to urban issues. As Representative Turner pointed out, while Canada and the United States may be quite different in some regards, the basic problems facing their cities — everything from social exclusion and crime prevention to transportation policy and economic development — generally are not. Both speakers were in agreeance that further cooperation and competition among and between Canadian cities and their American counterparts would serve the long-term interests of both.