The concept of civic duty originated in the ancient Greek city-states, where emphasis was placed on political participation. Citizenship was defined as an active engagement with specific privileges and obligations.
Canada’s governance landscape has three layers: federal, provincial and municipal. But municipalities are the heartbeat of our social, cultural and economic profile. They define our grassroots hopes and aspirations. They are also the first line of defence against our challenges and the stepping stone for our opportunities.
It is a sad commentary that municipalities are seldom recognized as pivotal to economic growth.
The contributions of municipalities to alter and direct the course of economic events towards a sustainable and prosperous future have been sidelined, marginalized and described as insignificant. But municipalities are, in fact, the little engine that can pull our provincial economies out of the current economic doldrums.
It is increasingly clear that municipalities help create economic growth by attracting business investment, strategizing our economic assets and facilitating job creation.
Municipalities are the heart and soul of effective economic development. They are ground zero for building a better province and a more prosperous Canada. They have a grassroots perspective and a unique lens to separate the wheat from the chaff. They empower our human resources, sustain our business activity and nurture our economic assets.
The keys to economic growth rest with municipalities: they are the custodians of the real estate, and all the physical, social and cultural capital that is on top of it. The list starts with the roads and bridges that businesses need to deliver their goods and services; the schools, colleges and universities that citizens need to grow their human capital; the libraries, art centres, swimming pools and hockey rinks that comprise our social capital. The synergy from all those complementary economic and social assets is what defines a vibrant and prosperous community in the 21st century.
Municipalities are becoming increasingly multicultural, multilingual, diverse and multi-faith through the influx of new immigrants and refugees. This is a unique and strategic economic and social advantage. It positions our municipalities for global opportunities, to build export outreach and attract foreign investment. Indeed, our multicultural and multilingual human resources are an economic asset and a competitive advantage.
In our democratic process, community groups are the centrepiece of political, social and economic empowerment. Bonding develops as municipalities provide face-to-face services and a willing ear at the neighbourhood level. Municipalities are the foundation stone for civil society’s economic hopes and aspirations, as that grassroots solidarity allows us to reach outward to the new global economy of the 21st century. The axiom “think locally and act globally” has never been more pertinent and more accurate than now.
As the federal government prepares to invest in physical infrastructure and social capital to the tune of $30 billion over the next few years, the economic role of municipalities takes on added importance. Municipalities can make a strong case for infrastructure renewal, producing a strategic and coherent business plan for new initiatives and social capital needs. They better than any other level of government can set stimulus project priorities, on the basis of economic integrity and social licence.
Canadians should concentrate on electing capable and visionary women and men to municipal councils. It’s the path towards sustainable economic growth and social cohesion.
Dr. Constantine Passaris is professor of economics at the University of New Brunswick and a national research affiliate of the Prentice Institute for Global Economy and Population at the University of Lethbridge.