Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

Call for Papers — Constitutional Space for Cities

Constitutional Space for Cities

April 7th – 8th, 2021

Call for Papers

Cities are drivers of the world’s economy:  they are home for most of the world’s population and create a large percentage of its’ wealth.  Nevertheless, municipal governments struggle to invest in appropriate infrastructures and necessary services, leading to considerable gaps in affordable housing, public transit, and social services.  This conference, on “Constitutional Space for Cities” and its’ associated papers, will seek to understand and explain why … and propose paths forward for Cities in Canada.


Many have suggested that Cities’ legal vulnerability has prevented them from engaging in long term financial or social planning.  Because they depend on support from other governments (provincial, state, regional, and federal), Cities are unable to fully develop long-term programs and infrastructure.  Cities struggle to respond to their communities’, such as climate change and massive social inequalities.

The diagnosis that Cities (particularly those in Canada) suffer from their “low” constitutional status is not new.  The traditional axiom that “municipalities are creatures of the province” has been at the core of legal and constitutional understanding for several decades.   In recent years, whether after forced amalgamations or imposed governance changes, there have been calls for change, calls for constitutional amendment, and calls for “City Charters”.  These demands are ultimately asking, “what are Cities for, how do we measure their success, and whether international models can serve as inspiration”?  The answers to these questions aim to reimagine the legal and administrative design of the Canadian constitutional order.

We invite proposals for papers, to be presented at the 2021 Constitutional Space for Cities Conference, and for contributions to an edited book collection or legal journal special volume.

We invite abstracts considering the following themes:

1.What are Cities for?

Are Cities economic, political, and social organisations designed to create well-being and wealth?  What must they do to achieve their mission?  What is their role in sustaining local engagement and social cohesion?  In addressing, both social and economic, inequality and vulnerability?

2. History of Cities in Canada, in particular around Confederation.

Is the legal fiction that cities are “creatures” of provincial legislation accurate? What do we know about the meaning of “municipal institutions” pre- and post-Confederation? What were the historical taxation powers of municipalities? What were the tensions between and among colonial powers and First Nations during this period?

3. History of the Legal and Political Treatment of Cities.

What makes a geographical grouping a “city”? How did the evolution of the relationship among cities, provinces, and First Nations evolve? How have various tensions been resolved and/or exacerbated since Confederation, both legally and politically?

4. Principles of Federalism and Cities: Subsidiarity and Co-operative Federalism.

Can existing constitutional principles and concepts in our federalism toolbox be used to reimagine more protection for cities?  How can these principles be strategically used given existing jurisprudence? In the case of subsidiarity, which powers would be appropriately located at the municipal level? How do we recognize the interdependencies that exist between regions and municipal authorities? 

5. Cities, Fiscal Responsibilities, and Intergovernmental Arrangements.

How can administrative design be used structure a reliable source of funding for cities? How can stability in funding and arrangements between levels of governments be ensured?

6. Cities and Indigenous Relationships.

What are the obligations of cities towards Indigenous populations that lived in the colonial boundaries of municipalities that neighbor or lie within cities? What are the obligations toward Urban Indigenous People, including but not limited to duties of consultation and accommodation? Will section 35 Aboriginal and Treaty rights be undermined by calls for greater municipal independence or constitutional renewal?

7. Cities and Regional Development.

How to recognize and prevent deepening inequalities between rural areas and cities? Are there mechanisms to redistribute power and wealth without stripping cities of their autonomy?

8. Constitutional Amendment to Increase Powers to Cities.

If constitutional amendments are necessary, which form could they take? Are provincial constitutions a viable option? How could these reforms be achieved?

9. Cities and Change.

From the pandemic to racist policing, many have called for substantial changes in the ways cities structure municipal governance, services, and budgeting, including their relationships with policing.  Are cities equipped to deal with these reform proposals? What is necessary to get the cities we need?

10. Case Studies.

Are there examples of cities around the world successfully establishing and carrying long-term plans for investment? Are there lessons to be learned? Conversely, are there examples of plans being thwarted that should be considered in rethinking constitutional or political powers?



Submissions are invited from scholars of all ranks, including doctoral students.


The Convenors intend to publish a selection of papers in an edited volume and/or in a special issue of a law journal. The Convenors may also seek partnerships with online forums to disseminate substantially shortened and popularly accessible versions of papers.

An invitation to participate in this Conference will be issued to a participant on the following conditions:

  1. the participant agrees to submit an original, unpublished paper, ranging between 5,000 and 6,000 words, consistent with the submission guidelines issued by the Conference Convenors.
  2. the participant agrees to submit a pre-Conference draft no later than March 7th, 2021.
  3. the participant agrees to submit a full post-Conference final draft by May 31st, 2021; and
  4. attendance at the Conference on April 7th and 8th, 2021 (in person or by videoconference).

Submission Instructions and Notification

Interested participants should email biographical information and an abstract of no more than 500 words by September 1st, 2020 to on the understanding that the abstract will form the basis of the pre-Conference working draft of a minimum of 3,000 words to be submitted by March 7th, 2021.  Scholars should identify their submission with the following subject line: “Constitutional Space for Cities — Abstract Submission.” 

Successful applicants will be notified no later than October 1st, 2020.


Participants’ travel costs (economy class travel and accommodation) and conference registration fees will be covered.


Please direct inquiries in connection with this Conference to:

Alan Kasperski;; 416 723 7578 

Nathalie Des Rosiers;; 613 410 2575 or 416 978 8448

Alexandra Flynn;                                

Richard Albert;


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