Provincial policy school awarded $1.75 million to support municipalities in advancing sustainability in Saskatchewan

The Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS), at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and University of Regina (U of R), has been awarded $1.75 million by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre to strengthen the capacity of municipal governments to move towards a net zero future.

An aerial view of Saskatoon. (Photo: Submitted)

“Municipal governments offer some of the highest impact opportunities to achieve sustainability—from economic development and stewardships of water, roads, and waste infrastructure, to approving building permits, to solving issues related to health and social development,” said Dr. Loleen Berdahl (PhD), JSGS executive director. “They must have a central role in confronting the practical challenges of sustainability, but are often faced with many barriers and competing priorities.”

Through the Governing Sustainability Municipalities (GSM) Project, JSGS faculty, executives-in-residence, and research associates will work with municipal governments to identify obstacles and opportunities for developing actionable, practical, and innovative solutions for meeting their sustainability objectives.

“Larger cities have done work on sustainability philosophies and plans, but need help with implementation, whereas smaller cities, by no fault of their own, lack even the capacity to develop plans,” said Dr. Jim Farney (PhD), JSGS U of R director. “The conversation inadvertently goes to, ‘How do we maintain and afford basic municipal services?’ with very little time or energy available to think about new approaches.”

The GSM project will help municipalities fill in these gaps by identifying the types of “green-oriented” policy expertise and capacity needed to balance their priorities and accelerate sustainable transitions at the municipal level. Specific attention will be placed on key dimensions of equity, diversity, and inclusion to ensure that sustainability efforts don’t harm underserved populations. Key considerations will also include how to foster co-operation and collaboration among municipalities, and how to engage the people and organizations affected.

“The Ministry of Government Relations appreciates the invitation from the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School to sit on this project’s advisory committee, alongside Saskatchewan’s municipal sector associations, whose members play a pivotal role in delivering key services and making important local infrastructure become a reality across this great province,” said the Honourable Don McMorris, Saskatchewan’s Government Relations Minister. “Once Johnson Shoyama Graduate School completes their work, municipalities can examine the project’s deliverables and determine what tools work best for their communities to improve quality of life for their citizens and make Saskatchewan stronger for years to come.”

As a priority, the GSM team will create a Saskatchewan Municipalities Sustainability Index that will provide open-access and comprehensive mapping of past municipal practices. This will become a benchmark for tracking future initiatives, and a conceptual map of the interactions among different aspects of this complex policy area. The team will also compile a list of stakeholders from local and provincial governments, business, academia, and other sectors into a Saskatchewan Sustainable Municipalities Stakeholder Database. This tool will become a valuable resource for municipal administrators looking for advice on how to set and reach their own sustainability goals, and for policy-makers looking for information on innovative solutions happening in Saskatchewan communities.

“The work being led by JSGS is a perfect example of the interrelatedness of human communities and natural ecologies, and how we must overcome environmental, social and political challenges to meet Canada’s—and the world’s—sustainability development goals,” said USask Vice-President Research Baljit Singh.

“As we strive for a more sustainable future, we need to support new approaches that enable us to move towards a net zero economy,” said Pedro Barata, executive director of the Future Skills Centre. “This initiative will foster green transitions at the municipal level in Saskatchewan, where workers and communities can shift their focus to skills training and development in areas of the labour market that are predicted to grow. It is a great example of the projects FSC is partnering in to identify new and better practices for the sustainable workforce of the future.”