Less than one year after its launch, the Windsor Law Centre for Cities has released its first report: “States of Emergency: Decision-making and participatory governance in Canadian municipalities during COVID-19.”
The report, led by Windsor Law professor and Centre for Cities director Anneke Smit, scans municipal governance practice across Canada during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, while providing recommendations for reform to state of emergency legislation, and changes to municipal approaches to ensure that wide public participation in local decision-making is upheld — even during an emergency.
“Cities have been faced with some of the most challenging decisions of any level of government during the pandemic. At the same time, they are at the centre of addressing other crises including climate change, systemic racism, and a lack of affordable housing, and budgets are limited,” says Prof. Smit. “There has been a lot of focus on what decisions are being made, and less on who is at the table to make them. Our report pulls back the curtain to get a better view of this.”
States of emergency were declared in most of Canada’s larger cities early in the pandemic. The report illustrates changes to municipal decision-making structures as a result, including unilateral decision-making by mayors and cancelled council, committee, and public consultation meetings.
Smit notes that with COVID-19 having hit vulnerable populations and in particular Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities hardest, making sure their voices are heard when decisions are made is particularly important.
The report cites several best practices where cities have innovated to ensure that public engagement and robust debate continued even during lockdown. It concludes that reform is needed at both provincial and municipal levels to ensure that cities’ emergency powers are limited in scope and time to what is truly necessary in a particular emergency, emphasizing that participatory governance must continue to be the norm.
In addition to Smit, the authorship team includes three current Windsor Law students — Hana Syed, Aucha Stewart and Michael Fazzari — and alumna Terra Duchene (JD 2019), who worked on the report over the summer months.