Thinking Regionally: How to Improve Service Delivery in Canada's Cities

24 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2016

See all articles by Zachary Spicer

Zachary Spicer

University of Western Ontario

Adam Found

University of Toronto

Date Written: October 12, 2016


As city-regions across Canada continue to grow, the need for some municipal services, such as mass transit, is shifting from a local to a regional basis. This transformation is giving rise to regional servicing challenges, placing greater pressure on city-regions and their municipalities to provide services across municipal boundaries in a coordinated and streamlined fashion.

For instance, cross-boundary commuters in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area face an array of unintegrated local transit systems and fare structures that are apart from the regional transit authority, Metrolinx. While mass transit in the Vancouver metropolitan area has been integrated under the regional transit authority, TransLink, local and provincial officials are looking for ways to improve the governance of TransLink.

The antiquated solutions of forced amalgamation and provincial mandates on service sharing have produced few economies of scale and have greatly undermined local autonomy. Provinces need to shift their focus from imposing centralized local government to creating frameworks that promote cooperative and flexible local governance. By working together in such a framework, municipalities can identify and resolve regional servicing challenges effectively, all while keeping amalgamation at bay and their local autonomy intact.

City-regions across Canada should be looking to the regional district governance model in British Columbia, where regional districts are “regional coordinators,” rather than “regional authorities” with topdown powers. The distinction matters greatly for regional governance.

Along these lines, TransLink in British Columbia and Metrolinx in Ontario should include local policymakers and stakeholders on their boards more than they do today. This would result in transit services being better tailored to the municipalities served and would improve accountability and transparency.

The Alberta government has been engaged in a series of changes to the Municipal Government Act, with a particular focus on mandating how municipalities are to work together. Instead of this authoritative approach, which has failed in Ontario, Alberta should create the kind of regional governance framework in which municipalities will want to work and cooperate.

Intermunicipal cooperation offers municipalities an effective means to strike an efficient balance between the need to meet regional interests on the one hand and to maintain local autonomy on the other.

Keywords: Public Governance and Accountability

JEL Classification: R50, R58, R40

Suggested Citation

Spicer, Zachary and Found, Adam, Thinking Regionally: How to Improve Service Delivery in Canada's Cities (October 12, 2016). C.D. Howe Institute Commentary 458, Available at SSRN: or

Zachary Spicer (Contact Author)

University of Western Ontario ( email )

No Address Available

Adam Found

University of Toronto ( email )

Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8

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