An Urban Nation: The Shifting Fortunes of Canadian Cities

The School of Public Policy Publications, Volume 14:29, November 2021

29 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2022

See all articles by Kevin McQuillan

Kevin McQuillan

University of Calgary - The School of Public Policy

Michael Laszlo

University of Calgary - The School of Public Policy

Date Written: November 2021

Abstract

Canada is not immune to the dramatic economic changes that are transforming society in other industrialized countries, where once-thriving factory and resource towns are dying, while educated knowledge workers in more cosmopolitan centres prosper. Where this growing inequality between communities and social classes takes root, worrisome social and political developments can develop, such as the polarization occurring in the U.S. and parts of Europe.

Canada’s 10 largest cities have been the primary driver of economic growth in recent years, and Canada is unusual in the degree to which its population is concentrated in a relatively small number of cities. To date, Canada’s largest cities have been doing well and Canada has not so far seen the contrast so evident in the United States between highly successful cities and large cities in decline, such as Detroit and Cleveland.

However, a ranking of national cities using “vitality” scores highlights a growing inequality between Canada’s largest cities and its midsize and smaller cities. In many communities in the Atlantic region, in Quebec beyond its two major cities, and in the northern regions of B.C. and Ontario, harder times may lie ahead. Their populations are stagnating, their employment rates for people of prime working age are distressingly low, and their proportion of low- income families is high. Urban decline can lead to further poverty, significant population aging and more pressure on higher levels of government to provide services that these communities can no longer afford.

The strength of cities primarily revolves today around human capital and the ability of a community to develop or attract a highly skilled labour force. If Canada is to avoid a future where just a few cities are economic and demographic “winners” and the rest are “losers,”policy-makers will need to consider how to help keep midsized cities from being increasingly left behind, whether that be through diversifying immigration patterns, targeted investment outside large urban areas, or other approaches. The pandemic, which has led some employers to rethink the need to keep workers in expensive big-city downtown offices, could create new opportunities to reinvigorate smaller, lower-cost centres.

However, without a change in the pattern of divergence between Canada’s dynamic cities and the rest, the societal and political strife that has unfolded elsewhere could someday happen here.

Suggested Citation

McQuillan, Kevin and Laszlo, Michael, An Urban Nation: The Shifting Fortunes of Canadian Cities (November 2021). The School of Public Policy Publications, Volume 14:29, November 2021 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4032052

Kevin McQuillan (Contact Author)

University of Calgary - The School of Public Policy ( email )

Calgary, Alberta
Canada

Michael Laszlo

University of Calgary - The School of Public Policy ( email )

Calgary, Alberta
Canada

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