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Stratford Festival Forum panel talks about The New City-State

By Bruce Urquhart 
Published in the Stratford Beacon Herald

With a season partially inspired by Canada 150, Saturday morning’s Stratford Festival Forum discussion was a fitting one.

The New City-State, a co-presentation with CBC Ideas, brought a trio of expert panellists to the Studio Theatre to ponder both the role of cities in progressing Canadian society and the concomitant importance of civic engagement.

But the three on-stage authorities also pointed out the challenges faced by Canadian cities, which have assumed more and more responsibilities in recent years while revenues have dwindled. While only receiving about 10 cents of every tax dollar, municipal governments in Ontario, for example, oversee about 60 per cent of public assets.

“It doesn’t fit,” said Sevaun Palvetzian, the CEO of CivcAction, an advocacy group that focuses on challenges in the Greater Toronto Area. “It doesn’t work.”


Remarking on the proximity of poverty and plenty in many Canadian cities, Penalosa said citizens should demand better from their local government and from themselves.

“I don’t know what’s worse,” he said. “That this happens or that people accept is as normal. Equity must be at the centre of everything we do.”

The final panellist, Lorna Day, Toronto’s director of urban design, spoke on the accelerating pace of change within Canadian cities, touching on the local impact of the world economy, worldwide refugee crises and disruptive innovations afforded by smartphones and similar devices.


While the three panellists had some different opinions on the most pressing issues facing Canadian cities, they all agreed on the importance of an engaged and involved citizenry. Penalosa, who has worked in more than 250 cities in the past decade, told the Studio Theatre audience to pay attention to municipal governance.

“Go to the public meeting, send e-mails to elected officials, (and) be at the table,” he said, “because if you’re not at the table, you’ll end up on the menu.”

Palvetzian pointed to the complexities of three levels of government co-ordinating on some of these massive infrastructure projects, remarking on the difficulties of meshing schedules and political changes.

“Governance is boring,” she acknowledged, “but getting it right is the only way to do things.”

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