By Matthew Liebenberg
A project to assist Saskatchewan municipalities with reaching sustainability goals will kick off in Swift Current with a public talk on March 27 and a stakeholder roundtable discussion the following day.
The events in Swift Current will be part of a series of public talks and stakeholder roundtables in communities around the province hosted by the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS).
“We’d love it if people would come to the public talk,” JSGS Executive Director Dr. Loleen Berdahl said. “And so, if there’s teachers or community leaders and anyone interested in sharing the information, we very much welcome that. And if somebody feels they’re someone who should be at that roundtable, they can feel free to reach out to us on our website. We really want community engagement, because it is definitely a project that’s ultimately to the benefit of communities and municipalities.”
JSGS is a provincial policy school established in 2007 as a collaboration between the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan. It has received $1.75 million from the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre to strengthen the capacity of municipal governments to achieve sustainability goals through the Governing Sustainable Municipalities (GSM) project.
“We’re looking at sustainability in the very broad definition of meeting the needs of today while also protecting the needs of the future,” she said. “We’re looking at economic sustainability, social sustainability, and environmental sustainability. All three parts of that are important to a municipality and to a community. We take a very balanced approach to an understanding of sustainability and then the question becomes how do we achieve that. What do we need to make those parts work together.”
The focus on municipal governments is important due to the opportunities on a local level to achieve sustainability through governance decisions and priorities.
“Municipalities, be they cities or small towns or rural municipalities, are where people live,” she said. “Sustainability is an important thing to municipalities and municipalities are important to the larger goal of sustainability. Quite often we have these discussions about big picture goals and objectives, and it’s really in municipalities and communities where a lot of the action and a lot of the ideas come. So we wanted a project that recognizes that and works with and for the municipal sector to help them be as effective and impactful as they can be.”
The concept of local action to create more sustainable communities is not new, but Berdahl felt this project will make a difference due to its focus and approach.
“Our project is specific to Saskatchewan and that’s where we’re seeing it having its impact,” she said. “There’s been a lot of work done, quite often it’s for a different context or quite often it’s quite broad and general. So what do these ideas mean in a Saskatchewan context and what do they mean for a province with municipalities that tend to be a bit smaller?”
The project will aim to answer questions about what opportunities exist for municipalities in the province to learn from each other, what resources are available to them, what challenges do they have and what might be available to help address those challenges.
She expects there will be a lot of variation in feedback during the engagement with the municipal sector, which will be related to the size and location of municipalities as well as local differences in economic and community growth.
“The idea that one size could fit all communities doesn’t make sense, but there can still be common challenges and there can still be common opportunities that they can learn from each other,” she said. “That’s really what we’re hoping to achieve. This is a project that we’re hoping will really be in service of and of help to the municipal sector.”
The GSM project will identify barriers to the implementation of sustainability on local level and identify measures to assist sustainability efforts in local government. It will consider the current state of municipal preparedness for sustainability and the extent to which progress might be limited by capacity and skills training gaps.
The initial goal of the project is to engage stakeholders through roundtable discussions to develop a greater understanding of sustainability challenges and opportunities. These roundtables will take place in six locations across Saskatchewan, starting in Swift Current on March 28. Others will be located in Weyburn, North Battleford, Yorkton, Saskatoon and Regina.
“It’s really important that we engage with people around the province,” she said. “That’s why we’re doing a number of roundtables around the province. We’re not expecting people to come to Regina or Saskatoon. We’re trying to get out and make our roundtables a bit more accessible to people across the province.”
The aim is to engage a variety of stakeholders in the roundtable discussions, varying from local elected representatives and municipal administrators to community groups, economic development organizations, tourism organizations and basically anyone whose work connects with municipal governments and sustainability.
The final roundtable in Regina on June 15 will be a sustainable municipalities summit for Saskatchewan where information from the previous regional roundtables will be shared and future opportunities for sustainability will be discussed.
There will be four public talks in association with the roundtables in Swift Current, Weyburn, North Battleford and Yorkton. Each evening talk on the night before the roundtable will feature a presentation on the theme of sustainability by a JSGS faculty member. Attendance can be in person or online.
The Swift Current talk takes place on March 27 at 7 p.m. in the InnovationPlex auditorium. The speaker is Dr. Margot Hurlbert, the Canada Research Chair in Climate Change, Energy and Sustainability Policy at JSGS, University of Regina. The theme of her presentation is Resilience: Innovation in a changing municipal landscape.
Berdahl said the public talks will serve several purposes within the project’s broad goal of reaching out to communities.
“We’re coming and we’re asking people in the local area through the roundtables to share with us,” she noted. “So this is an opportunity for us to share back and engage with the community and have something that’s open for anyone who’s interested to attend. … It’s also an opportunity for information sharing and it’s an opportunity for people in the community to show up and ask questions, if they have any.”
The GSM project will have several outcomes to provide useful information and support to municipalities. A searchable stakeholder database will be a resource for municipalities during the development and implementation of their sustainability plans. The project will create four issue briefs about various issues that municipalities are encountering during their efforts to address sustainability.
“One of the things we’re hoping will be an outcome of this project in addition to the findings is to really foster a community of practice around municipal governance and sustainability,” she said. “We see the opportunity for people to meet each other, to build connections and relationships, and to share information as being an important thing. … One thing that the project is considering is to what extent there are skills gaps with sustainability. Is there a need for additional training and how can the post-secondary education system in Saskatchewan help.”
More information about the GSM project as well as details about the public talks and roundtables and how to register are available under the research tab on the JSGS website (www.schoolofpublicpolicy.sk.ca).