Overcoming institutional challenges

Multi-level collaborative governance often diverges from the current political and bureaucratic styles of government. The movement toward governance requires transformations in processes and programs for both senior government and local-level actors. These transformations to facilitate a multi-level collaborative governance arrangement often create requirements for new or revised institutional processes. All stakeholders need to recognize these requirements and be prepared to make the necessary investments while acknowledging potential opportunities and risks. Experiences from across the case study regions identified four key institutional challenges that hindered multi-level collaborative governance: past histories of amalgamation, volunteer burnout, an unclear understanding of governance within government, and unequal power dynamics between rural and urban communities.

At the local level, multi-level collaborative governance is hindered by animosity among key leaders and local organizations from previous amalgamations and local government re-organizations. Interview participants in both ON and NL indicated that the negative experiences with past amalgamations served to as a hindrance to meaningful multi-level collaborative governance in their region. Past experiences with amalgamation left an ill-will towards collaboration and governance, often expressed towards the provincial government and sometimes neighbouring communities. One municipal interview participant in ON expressed frustration that members of their region, for example, “still have hard feelings from the 1990s amalgamations”, which is preventing effective multi-level collaborative governance from taking place.

Case Study 5.2 Northern Peninsula Regional Collaboration Pilot Initiative (Newfoundland and Labrador)

The 2009 Speech from the Throne announced a fundamental shift in how the government of Newfoundland and Labrador would work with communities regarding collaboration and governance. John Crosbie, then lieutenant governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, announced that “[throughJ a bold new Regional Collaboration Pilot Project, my Government will work with regional leaders to explore collaborative forms of governance that advance regional sustainability” (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2009). From that announcement, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador created the Northern Peninsula Regional Collaboration Pilot Initiative (NPRCPI) to explore how to do collaboration and governance differently in the province.

The region

Regional collaboration and governance were not new to the communities of the Northern Peninsula when the Speech from the Throne was read. In fact, communities throughout the region have long participated in inter-community activities and worked in various ways with all levels of government, as shown through regional cooperatives, regional development agencies, regional waste management association, a regional tourism agency, and a joint municipal council (Vodden, Hall, & Freshwater, 2013). The NPRCPI represented a new opportunity to explore alternative ways for communities, non-profit organizations, and businesses to work with the provincial government while building on past regional collaborations.

The Northern Peninsula region, as discussed in Chapter 4 (see Map 4.6), represents a total of 51 communities, including 16 incorporated communities, 18 local service districts, and 17 unincorporated areas. The region has a total population of approximately 12,241, with general population declines being witnessed since 1981 (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2012). The Northern Peninsula has often been marked as a region of marginality, high unemployment, underdeveloped economy, and high dependence on transfer payments (Simms & Ward, 2016; Sinclair & Felt, 1993).

The new governance arrangement

The three primary purposes of the newly created NPRCPI were: (i) to provide advice to government decision-makers; (ii) to create an inclusive forum in the region for discussions of challenges and opportunities, and (iii) to provide advice on how government can develop and support innovative regional collaboration. The membership of the initiative consisted of 12 individuals identified from three regional groups and five provincial government departments. The 12 regional members were identified from the Joint Mayors Council, the two regional economic development boards, and the St. Anthony — Port au Choix Regional Council of the Rural Secretariat. Each of these organizations identified three individuals to join the Northern Peninsula Regional Collaboration Pilot Initiative. The five government departments invited to participate were Innovation, Trade and Rural Development; Municipal Affairs; Rural Secretariat; Tourism, Culture, and Recreation; and Transportation and Government Works.2 The Rural Secretariat was the lead government partner, providing facilitation and organizational and secretarial support to the initiative (Gibson, 2015).

The NPRCPI did not formally have any rules for their engagement. It operated without a formal leadership structure throughout its entire mandate. The work of the initiative was guided by the three primary purposes and a commitment to exploring enhanced ways of collaborating as a region. Throughout the course of the NPRCPI, decisions were made through consensus. The initiative members met face-to-face approximately three to four times per year. The calling of meetings, agenda setting, and chairing of the meetings was delivered by the Rural Secretariat staff. Each meeting, usually one to two days in duration, often focused on one specific regional theme, such as transportation or tourism.

Outputs and outcomes

Over the four years of the NPRCPI, the representatives crafted detailed advice to provincial departments on regional priorities and how to most effectively invest money into the region. In particular, the initiative spent considerable time working with two government departments to craft regionally specific advice for future funding and programming: Municipal Affairs and Government Transportation and Works. In both instances, the NPRCPI members were provided with access to substantial information on how these departments make decisions and what information is available to guide decision making. With this information in hand, the initiative was then challenged to think regionally for the Northern Peninsula. Recommendations emerging from the NPRCPI were not universally accepted when received by government. This proved to be a setback for members, often deflating their momentum to bring change in regional approaches to the Northern Peninsula. At the same time, the setback served as a catalyst for members to re-group and continue their work to advance regional thinking and decision-making.

Over the course of four years, the NPRCPI undertook a number of applied research initiatives. These initiatives focused on enhancing understandings of the fishery and forestry industries and social networking among actors in the Northern Peninsula region.

The members of the NPRCPI noted three key outcomes from their experiences. First, enhanced relationships among stakeholders in the Northern Peninsula and the provincial government emerged. The initiative allowed for new relationships and the enhancement of existing relationships. Second, it increased trust among key actors in the Northern Peninsula region and representatives of the provincial government. The ability to meet on a regular basis and engage in meaningful and difficult discussions in a respectful environment promoted the sense of trust among all participants. Finally, it improved understanding of the Northern Peninsula region among provincial governments participating in the NPRCPI (Gibson, 2015).

Reflections on the governance experience

The NPRCPI was initially created to concluded in March 2012. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador continued the initiative for approximately one additional year before it was discontinued. The NPRCPI was an experiment by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador. This experiment explored regional collaboration and governance in a manner unseen before in the province.

The NPRCPI meets many of the key characteristics of governance. It was an initiative with membership that extended beyond government. The initiative engaged municipal leaders, economic development stakeholders, and members of the St Anthony — Port au Choix Regional Council of the Rural Secretariat. The initiative also blurred the lines regarding responsibility for tackling regional issues and recognized that the capacity to get things done was not the mandate of the government. Where the NPRCPI deviated from Stoker’s (1998) propositions is that it did not constitute an autonomous self-governing network. Without a leadership structure and clear mandate, the initiative was largely driven by government.

Although the NPRCPI is no longer active, it has provided a wealth of information on regional collaboration and regional governance. These insights hold substantial transferability to other jurisdictions, in both Canada and beyond.

A critical institutional challenge for many local actors is the ability to provide sufficient human resources to multi-level collaborative governance initiatives. The quintessential characteristics of rurality — primarily large distances between communities and low population densities (Reimer & Bollman, 2010) - compound these institutional challenges. For many local actors, participation in multi-level collaborative governance requires volunteers to attend meetings. Community-based organizations in each region of the country expressed concern about volunteer burnout and how it would impact potential engagement, or lack of engagement, with multi-level collaborative governance initiatives. The rural demographic trends of aging communities and out-migration created further concern among interview participants that volunteer burnout issues would not be resolved in the short term. The issue of volunteer burnout may prevent some organizations from participating in multi-level collaborative governance.

New multi-level collaborative governance initiatives often require new processes and new understanding by all actors involved. The ability' for provincial and federal governments to recognize and accommodate these processes was highlighted as a challenge. Interview participants often noted that provincial and federal government employees working with multi-level collaborative governance initiatives understood the new design and the differences from previous government—community relationships. Unfortunately, other government employees often struggled to understand the differences and nuances of multilevel collaborative governance when compared to more traditional hierarchical governance structures. As a result, those involved in governance often discovered a challenge in working with the broader provincial and federal government outside of the actors involved in the governance initiative. A municipal government interviewee from NL noted, “the folks in the provincial capital simply do not understand what we are doing - they think our collaboration is no different than how the government worked with communities previously”.

Finally, the relationships between rural and urban communities was emphasized as a challenge to multi-level collaborative governance. Often these communities have a long history of collaboration, including positive and negative experiences. In ON and QC interview participants noted concern that urban communities wielded more power than rural ones (see Chapter 8 for further discussion of rural—urban interactions). In some instances, this concern emerged from the governance design whereby urban communities had more votes in decision-making, such as in the Municipalites Regionales de Comte (MRCs). In other instances, urban communities were accused of using their power or finances to influence collective decisions. The design of multi-level collaborative governance initiatives can serve as a limitation for participation, especially for rural communities. In the process of transforming from government to governance, rural—urban dynamics need to be identified and addressed.

Active public engagement

Throughout the governance literature, a common concern is whether the general public is informed enough or inclined to be active in public policy. Given that multi-level collaborative governance initiatives operate in a fundamentally different manner than those of government, the public may assume that governance lacks legitimacy or authority.

Actors involved in multi-level collaborative governance initiatives from across the country echoed these academic concerns. Many interview participants noted that public participation is not common beyond the direct members of the multi-level collaborative governance initiative: “[there is] no strategic choice to involve the public in decision making” [Commu- nity-/regional-based organization, BCJ. Other interview participants acknowledged that “participatory processes are not strong” [Community-/ regional-based organization, ON) and “public participation [is] not common” [Municipal government, NLJ. See Chapter 7 where public participation is discussed as being a minority practice in Eastern Ontario from the perspective of integrated development policy and planning.

The lack of public engagement is not universal among the case study regions. Interview participants in QC acknowledged their organization had a key role in restoring communication between the public and municipalities. In ON, an interview participant noted that a change in leadership had facilitated increased public engagement. What is clear is that there is no common approach to public engagement with multi-level collaborative governance.

Case Study 5.3 Yukon Regional Round Table

In 2006, a unique multi-level collaborative governance institution was created among Indigenous communities, incorporated and unincorporated communities, and various levels of government in the Yukon. Initially, eight rural communities and Indigenous peoples came together since there was no forum for multi-community collaboration discussions in the territory (Annis & Beattie, 2008; Gibson, Annis, & Dobson, 2007). Over the next two years, the Yukon Regional Round Table’s (YRRT) membership grew to include 14 communities and First Nations, three territorial government departments, and four federal government departments. The mandate of the round table focuses on collaborative economic development, networking among communities, healthy and respectful relationships, and shared promotion of community events (Gibson, Annis, & Dobson, 2007).

The governance of the YRRT consists of two bodies: the round table and the advisory council. Each community and First Nation appointed two representatives to the round table. This body was responsible for setting collective directions, decision-making, and the implementation of activities. The round table members decided to make all decisions by consensus. As one mayor stated, “the binding agent of the group is good will - that is the only authority the group has” (Gibson, Annis, & Dobson, 2007, p. 9). The advisor)' council consists of representatives of territorial government departments, federal government departments, and territorial serving organizations. The advisory council serves as a bridge to share information to the round table, convey information from the round table to government departments, and support the round table. The relationship between the Yukon Regional Round Table and the Advisor)' Committee is illustrated in Figure 5.1.

Multi-level collaborative governance 97

Governance model of the Yukon Regional Round Table

Figure 5.1 Governance model of the Yukon Regional Round Table

As a collaborative forum, the YRRT tackled a number of regional opportunities related to collaborative community economic development; accountability and credibility; healthy, respectful relations; networking; coordinated promotion; and social development initiatives. The round table implemented a series of regional initiatives focused on asset mapping, collaborative tourism-marketing partnerships, and network capacity development (Wirth, 2008).

The YRRT was a successful new governance model. It was not without its challenges, such as limited human resources (both human and financial) and maintaining interest of stakeholders over long periods of time. The group was quickly recognized by community and First Nation leaders as the only non-political forum of communities (both incorporated and unincorporated), First Nations, territorial government, and federal government representatives. [1]

from across Canada suggests multi-level collaborative governance is taking place, in some instances with significant challenges, but not universally across the case studies.

The empirical findings from rural regions in Canada parallel many of the key themes identified in the broad literature on multi-level collaborative governance. The empirical findings demonstrate the “blurring of lines” among actors is present. Regional interviews identified that the transfer of responsibilities among actors in the multi-level collaborative governance initiatives can be hindered by institutional barriers. Further, interview participants highlighted concerns about increasing responsibilities through multi-level collaborative governance without a corresponding increase in either financial or human resources. This experience of heightened engagement with no shifts in power, responsibility, or resources is problematic. Stoker (1998) and Ansell and Gash (2007) clearly state a transfer of power is required for a process to be considered governance. Without this shift in power and/or responsibility, we are witnessing advanced mechanisms of engagement by government, not governance.

The evidence from our investigation also demonstrates there is still much to be understood. Three particular areas requiring further attention include the role of macro-level events, the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations, and the challenges associated with volunteer burnout. Our investigation primarily focused on regional actors, processes, and outputs. This analysis does not tackle the influence of macro-level events on regional initiatives. For example, how does the role of economic recessions such as the 2008 economic crisis or financial austerity from higher levels of government impact multi-level collaborative governance? How are rural areas influenced by Indigenous planning initiatives?

The implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations will have substantial implications for multi-level collaborative governance in rural regions. From a purely spatial perspective, there is considerable overlap in Indigenous territories and rural regions in Canada. Interview participants alluded to new collaborations with Indigenous communities, businesses, and organizations as part of their governance arrangements. It is anticipated that multi-level collaborative governance initiatives will continue to increase the engagement of Indigenous actors, which to date has been limited in the case study regions.

The success of multi-level collaborative governance initiatives, as described in the literature, are attributed to many factors, including meaningful engagement of regional actors. For small organizations and businesses, the commitment of time and energy to actively participate in multi-level collaborative governance arrangements are significant. For voluntary and non-profit organizations, the investment of time and energy rests solely on volunteers. The ability for all regional actors to commit the necessary time is a challenge for successful multi-level collaborative governance. The risk of burnout among all actors is a pressing concern and one that requires further examination.

Some narratives of multi-level collaborative governance initiatives from the case studies embody Wallis’ (2002) new regionalism characteristics of networks, openness, collaboration, empowerment, and trust. Although multi-level collaborative governance initiatives can take different forms and functions, such as the Yukon Regional Round Table or the Northern Peninsula Regional Collaboration Pilot Initiative, they are an important phenomenon being experienced by communities, voluntary and nonprofit organizations, private sector, and all levels of government. Multi-level collaborative governance is also critical to advancing the principles and practices of new regionalism.

  • [1] Reflections and future directions Similar to new regionalism more broadly, the application of multi-level collaborative governance in the case study regions is generally nascent at best.The theoretical underpinnings of multi-level collaborative governance suggestthis model is well suited to the new challenges and opportunities beingencountered by rural regions. These models encourage a networked approachby engaging non-traditional actors in collective decision-making, knowledgesharing, resource sharing, and governing processes. The empirical evidence
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