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Summer Conference 2002


Opening Remarks

Hello! I’m Margaret Lefebvre, president of the Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs.

First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to personally welcome all of you to our 71st Annual Summer Conference.

As those who have attended previous editions will no doubt attest, there is something very special – and quite addictive – about "Couch". Indeed, it might well be described as the thinking person’s perfect summer tonic: Take an idyllic setting in sultry late-summer, add a generous measure of – if you will pardon the pun – "august" company, and stir in some spirited debate about vital issues that impact our life and times. What a marvelous combination! As our slogan says, it really is "a very civil place to disagree"

We have a terrific program lined up for the next 3 1/2 days. I’m sure you will find it stimulating and thought-provoking – be it the insights gained from our speakers and formal sessions, or the give and take of the animated discussions that inevitably go on long into the night around the grounds here.

What I don’t anticipate much debate over is the crucial importance of the central issue being examined at this year’s conference: Cities and Globalization. As a former city councillor and board member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, I have witnessed first-hand the sort of predicaments confronting so many cities in this fast-changing world of ours.

The fact of the matter is we now live in an environment that is primarily urban. One need not look beyond our own borders for proof of this. According to the latest census information, 79.4% – that’s four out of every five Canadians – now reside in urban areas. And more than half the population – 51% to be precise – lives in just four major urban centres. (Metropolitan Montreal, Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe, the Calgary-Edmonton corridor and B.C’s Lower Mainland.)

Not only are more of us living in cities, we are also looking at our cities in a different light. Globalization has made the world smaller in one sense, but also much larger. As more and more people sense that national identity and the traditional notion of the sovereign state are somehow beyond their construct, they strive to impose a sense of order on their immediate environment, i.e. their city.

To my way of thinking, that’s not a bad thing. Like many proponents of strong local government, I am a great believer in the principle of "subsidiarity" – that every issue should be managed at the level closest to the people affected by it, at which it can be handled effectively. However, as Maurice Strong, the prominent Canadian environmentalist and policy maker, pointed out at a conference I attended last year, the application of subsidiarity under today’s conditions is not exactly a straightforward proposition. It would require both a significant strengthening of the authority of local governments and a corresponding increase in their access to the resources required to effectively. exercise that authority

So far, we haven’t seen much sign of this happening. A number of Canadian provinces have shown themselves more than willing to download service delivery. But critical decisions about how and where the money is being spent – not to mention the tools for financing the required services – remain in the hands of so-called senior levels of government.

Consider, for instance, that while the lion’s share of economic activity is generated in our cities, they have little or no direct input on fiscal policy, industrial strategy etc. There is a similar disconnect in terms of immigration. Although the vast majority of immigrants congregate in urban areas, as opposed to the countryside, our cities have zero input towards immigration policy. And so it goes.

I believe the time is ripe to engage in a fundamental re-examination of the framework within which our municipalities exist. We need to consider how we could bring about meaningful change that would recognize the new reality and give fresh powers to municipalities, without throwing the country into the sort of crisis that might arise from an attempt to amend the constitution.

As we have seen in Toronto and in Montreal, amalgamation clearly is not the answer. Bigger is even less likely to be better than linear logic would suggest. Successful cities run on lean administrative structures, visible accounting and easily understandable financial reports.

At any rate, throughout history, the great cities of the world essentially have been the purview of the people who lived in them. Now many are facing crisis, as urbanization, immigration and globalization impact the day-to-day operation of the multilingual, multicultural and multiracial communities that arguably are the true testing ground for bold socio-political change.

So what are the answers? Many have suggestions to put forward; over the next three days we will hear diverse – and, no doubt, at times contradictory – visions of the future. Of course, when we were planning this program, we were not looking for easy answers, but rather for ways in which we can clarify the questions with a view to facilitating the development of effective, well-thought-out public policy. That, in fact, has been the hallmark of Couch for more than 70 years now, providing a truly unique and vital forum for much-need policy debates. And if I may be permitted a brief personal note, I would just like to say that I will look back on my two years at Couchiching’s helm as that rare opportunity to collaborate with a great bunch of people doing their damnedest to make a difference. Now, without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce one of the world’s leading advocates of local government, Colonel Max Ng’andwe.

Max Ng’andwe (pronounced NGANDWAY), our keynote speaker for this evening, has a mission in life - to make the world a better place for future generations. Max is deeply committed to the promotion of genuine democracy, sustainable human development, the protection of minority interests and human rights.

Max began his career in the Zambian Army, rising to the rank of Colonel and received honours for distinguished service. He was a political activist during the struggle for Zambian independence and is now the Business Chief Executive of a group of 8 companies involved in industrial, commercial and agricultural activities.

Of most interest for this meeting, is Max’s involvement in local government. Max has been a Councillor and Mayor of Kabwe, Zambia. He has been President of the African Union of Local Authorities, a Board member for the Municipal Development Program – East and Southern Africa and for the period 1999–2001 Max was President, Local Government Association of Zambia, the global representative of municipal government.

It is my great pleasure today to introduce to you a leader who has dedicated much of his life to working both locally in the villages and towns of rural Africa and at the highest levels of international diplomacy to build successful communities.