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Municipalities of the Future symposium addresses pandemic-related challenges and opportunities

Municipalities of the Future symposium addresses pandemic-related challenges and opportunities

The School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA) held its fourth annual Municipalities of the Future Symposium in virtual format in early March with a focus on the COVID-19 pandemic through the theme Municipalities on the frontlines: New realities and mandates in a post-pandemic world.

Close to 200 participants attended throughout the day, including municipal employees, non-profit managers, community leaders, provincial public servants, students and faculty in the SPPA who discussed the multitude of ever-evolving challenges in their work every day, as well as interesting opportunities for meaningful change that have emerged as a result.

Best practices in public administration, embracing and managing change, innovation in the face of necessity and building on the impetus for policy changes, new investments and equity goals, were among the key considerations highlighted by keynote speaker Dino Basso, commissioner of corporate services for the Regional Municipality of York, which includes both urban and rural communities with diverse needs.

Commissioner Dino Basso during his keynote address

A seasoned public service leader with three decades of experience in the sector, Basso offered advice during the question-and-answer period. While seeing great potential for improvements in public service delivery emerging from the pandemic experience, when asked about the potential pitfalls of embracing the “new normal” too much, Basso highlighted that organizational culture is a crucial component of work and that has been extremely difficult to convey to new employees with the dominance of remote work.

The importance of communication as an essential service with material impact – both internal within organizations and external with stakeholders – was also highlighted by a panel of communication professionals, which was a new addition to this year’s symposium.

Human Resources panel: (from top left to right) with Silvia Fraser, director of transformation, Workplace Strategies, City of Toronto; Lola Obomighie, director, People and Culture, Cota; Dana Johnston, interim head of human resources, Town of Whitby; Roy Tran, director, People Experience, City of Toronto; facilitator Amuna Baraka-Clarke, senior director, People & Culture, LOFT Community Services and host Professor Naomi Couto, graduate program director for the Master of Public Policy, Administration and Law (MPPAL) program

Other panel themes included: the need for integration and equity in health and social services; new realities in municipal finance as a result of structural change; intergovernmental relations and the need for coordination in support of economic recovery; prioritizing growth with equity through small business supports and community benefit agreements; redeployment of human resources; and, the need for process improvements, diversity and work-life balance.

Intergovernmental relations and economic recovery panel with Sarah Klein, director of strategic initiatives, Town of Whitby (center left); and from bottom right and upwards Victor J. Severino, assistant deputy minister, Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, Office of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, Regulatory Modernization and Business Relief Division; Rosemarie Powell, executive director, Toronto Community Benefits Network; facilitator Jason Reynar, chief administrative officer, Town of Innisfil; host Professor Alena Kimakova, director of SPPA; and student volunteer Khushbu Dhaliwal, president of the Public Policy and Administration Student Association

Professional networking at the symposium was facilitated through small group interactions in breakout rooms. Full listing of speakers and bios can be found at

The event was co-sponsored by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) Toronto Region.

Municipal finance panel (from top left to right): Laura Mirabella, commissioner of finance, Regional Municipality of York; Donna Herridge, executive director, Municipal Finance Officers'​ Association; Gary Kent, commissioner of corporate services and Chief Financial Officer, City of Mississauga; Andrew Waters, senior financial planning analyst, Financial Planning Division, City of Toronto and facilitator Ken Ogata, associate professor, SPPA and School of Administrative Studies