Author: Dr. Loleen Berdahl

Canada’s highly urbanized nature creates a number of governance and public policy strains. The governance strains are seen in growing arguments among some opinion and community leaders that the current political realities—including municipal powers and municipal finances— do not correspond to current and future urban needs. The public policy strains are found in the need to properly manage urban growth and population change, and the associated implications for infrastructure, housing, the environment, finance, poverty, and social fragmentation, among other issues.

Since 2000, the Canada West Foundation’s Western Cities Project has explored a wide range of public policy and governance issues facing six of western Canada’s large urban areas: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. The Looking West 2007 Survey measures public opinion in these six cities on a variety of urban policy issues. Topics include urban policy priorities; public safety; street level social problems; transportation; quality of life; the environment and urban green spaces: and urban growth and diversity. The results provide baseline information on public opinion in western cities on a number of policy issues. For comparative purposes, the survey also measures public opinion in the Greater Toronto Area. A total of 3,500 urban residents were interviewed, with 500 from each city.

City Views presents a number of topical discussions of the survey results. Questions explored include:

In what ways does public opinion on urban issues vary across the western cities?
To what extent is Toronto reflective of larger urban concerns in Canada, and to what extent is Toronto unique?
Do immigrant, visible minority and Aboriginal sub-populations differ in their attitudes about urban issues and perceptions of their cities?
What do the survey results reveal about issues of urban finance?
In what ways do urban policy concerns correspond with areas of federal urban engagement?
The Looking West 2007 Survey reveals that residents of western cities and Toronto share a number of public policy concerns. The survey also finds that, despite arguments by mayors and community leaders that big cities need new fiscal and political arrangements, the public is yet to be convinced that municipal governments need additional revenue, although there is agreement that big cities should be treated differently by the provincial governments. Finally, and most importantly, the survey demonstrates that urbanites see a lot of positive elements to their cities, including welcoming societies and high quality of life.

The challenge for policy-makers is to ensure that Canada’s big city residents continue to enjoy these features of urban life in the years ahead.