In 1800, 95 per cent of the U.S. workforce was engaged in agriculture. That figure plummeted to 40 per cent by 1900, and it sits at around 2 per cent today. The figures for Canada are similar, and the parallel emptying of rural areas is palpable. Fly over Saskatchewan and the thought of every 640-acre section being occupied by four prolific families on their 160-acre quarters seems as remote as those sections.
But Canada was like that for some time after its constitutional arrangements were put in place. Canada did not reach 50 per cent urbanization until 1921. Giving municipalities a single terse line in the Constitution Act, 1867 probably did not provoke much thought. Since then, political reality has left constitutional geography behind. The mayors of Toronto and Montreal preside over constituencies greater than those of all but four premiers. Culture and politics are overwhelmingly urban, and those of us who like open markets, free societies and limited government find the battle shifting from the field to the street.
Arguably, municipal decisions on infrastructure and land use have a greater effect on everyday life than those made at the federal and provincial levels.
This edition of C2C interviews market-oriented urban expert Joel Kotkin of NewGeography about his long-running battle with urbanista Richard Florida of The Rise of the Creative Class fame. Steve Lafleur meditates on the reportedly dying relationship between Millennials and the car, concluding that, if anything, government intervention is retarding this trend.
Urban consultant Richard White argues that recreation is the new religion, with stadium domes replacing cathedral spires and personal trainers replacing pastors.
MP and former Penticton city councillor Dan Albas tells war stories about reining in the haphazard spending habits of a wayward city council.
Brianna Heinrichs tackles the fashionable trend of public consultation at City Hall.
One-time Montreal resident Olivier Ballou rounds out the edition, reviewing a newly published (April 2013) history of the city that, like Montreal itself, fails to grasp the importance of markets and commerce.
If Canada were established today, its constitutional arrangements might be somewhat closer to what certain big-city mayors advocate: Cities hold the whip hand on revenue sources and regulatory decisions, and provinces govern the spaces in between. In theory, world of greater subsidiarity, where decision-making is closer to the people and more jurisdictions are competing for taxpayers and capital, would be a boon for a free society.
Persuading other levels of government to abandon power, though, is much harder than persuading municipal politicians to take it. Moreover, because cities have been so neglected by market-oriented politicos, no level of government is less ready to take on more responsibility, with ownership, spending and regulation by city councils being woefully unrestrained and arbitrary.
Canada is far closer to its sesquicentennial than to its founding, and there will be no such constitutional shift. Nevertheless, the role of municipal government will continue to be one of the big stories in 21st century politics.