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The Unicity Papers

Institute of Urban Studies


UniCity: A Bold Experiment in Democracy

The Unicity Papers are a comprehensive collection of the research published by the Institute of Urban Studies regarding the municipal amalgamation of Greater Winnipeg. The collection also includes two reports produced by the provincial government for the background context they provide. Short abstracts are provided by Robert Galston for many of the atricles in this collection.

Provisional Plan for Local Government Units in the Greater Winnipeg Area. Local Government Boundaries Commission, 1970.

This report was produced by the Manitoba Boundary Commission as a provisional plan for the Greater Winnipeg area’s municipal boundaries over the years 1970-1990, and was intended to act as a means to create discussion and reaction. It outlines the structure of municipal government in the Greater Winnipeg area, current and prospective issues, and alternatives available to municipal government and school boards. It applies guidelines and criteria for both these alternatives and the commission’s recommendations. The commission concludes that the urban issues and government dysfunctions of the current two-tiered system are minimal compared to those in larger urban centres, and that a radical change to the local political structure is unnecessary. Instead, it recommends that the two-tiered system of government continue in the region, with a metropolitan government and nine city governments within this metro region. These nine cities would be created out of the twelve existing municipalities, through a few minor boundary alignments and amalgamations. Emphasis is placed on the significance of local self-governance and its ability to more effectively deal with growing urban problems. Appendices include excerpts from local and international publications that argue in favour of more localized representation, and the hazards of too much centralization of municipal government.

External link: Report (PDF)

Proposals for Urban Reorganization in the Greater Winnipeg Area. Province of Manitoba, 1971.

The intent of this document is to explain Premier Ed Schreyer’s New Democratic government plan to create a Unicity structure in Greater Winnipeg, as a means to reform local government. There is a strong emphasis on making municipal government more representative of the citizenry. The provincial government saw the existing two-tiered system of local governments in Greater Winnipeg (the Metro government and local municipalities) as being inadequate at both addressing growing urban problems and providing services. It rejects the recommendation of the Boundary Commission paper that was published the previous year (1970) to keep a two-tiered municipal government, and instead favours total amalgamation of local governments in Greater Winnipeg into one government body. It proposes a new, unified council, that the mayor be elected by council, a new administration structure through a “council-commissioner” system, and the creation of community committees on council and resident advisory groups as a means of maintaining local representation and fostering citizen engagement. It reviews the representative ratios of the new government, and outlines the implementation of the new government, and transition that would follow.

External link: Report (PDF)

The Future City: A Selection of Views on the Reorganization of Government in Greater Winnipeg, 1971.

Axworthy, L., ed.

This is a collection of short essays on the potential workings and outcomes of the Unicity scheme then proposed by the Manitoba provincial government, and attempts to give careful consideration and critique of the scheme. Essays are written by researchers and academics from the University of Winnipeg, members of the local media and the private sector. The paper argues that amalgamation into a regional government will have both positive and negative effects. Generally, the provision of equitable levels of services and effective planning for the entire region are viewed positively, while the potential for Unicity to become too unwieldy and too under-representative of marginalized communities is seen as a cause for concern. An additional criticism that arises from these essays, is that partisan politics will become more firmly rooted at the municipal level in Winnipeg, on account of Unicity’s proposed parliamentary-style city council. The test of Unicity, therefore, is the degree to which the proposed community committees and ward representation are able to flourish. The editor concludes by saying that the Unicity has the potential to be a framework for a new, more democratic style of politics through greater citizen engagement. This end must be actively pursued, he writes, otherwise the new framework will be governed by the same old politics that characterized Greater Winnipeg in recent years.

Book (PDF)

Report on Unicity Project, 1972.

Cassidy, J., O'Hara, J.

Report (PDF)

The Future City Report No. 2: The Politics of Innovation, 1972.

Axworthy, T.

This is a chronological narrative of the events that led to the Unicity scheme coming to fruition. It reviews the history of local government in the Greater Winnipeg region, focusing especially on the creation of the Metropolitan (Metro) government in 1960, the conflicts that emerged between Metro and the City of Winnipeg, and the various attempts at (and studies of) municipal reform leading up to the provincial government’s Unicity proposal. Finally, it outlines the political process that occurred at the local and provincial level, which led to the proposal and the adoption of Bill 36, the Unicity Act, in 1972. Local political culture and popular attitudes toward municipal government are examined in this narrative. The paper also examines how Unicity relates more broadly to the issue of reform and change in government institutions, looking at the history of urban reform in British and North American cities, and the theories of reform and innovation in urban governance. It utilizes a systems approach to looking at politics and urban change: social, economic, and political factors, and how movements for change in municipal governance are initiated, emerge, and adopted.

Book (PDF)

Unicity: The Transition Future City Series, No. 4., 1974.

Axworthy, L., Cassidy, J.

This paper reviews the first two years of the Unicity system, examining the implementation of the system and its preliminary impact and effectiveness in Greater Winnipeg. More broadly, it looks at the effectiveness of institutional reform as a tool for change, and a catalyst for increased citizen participation in local government. A significant portion of this report is a performance overview of various components of local government under the new Unicity structure: council, administration, community committees, and resident advisory groups. It looks at how the new government handled emergent planning issues in Winnipeg, particularly major downtown developments, and how the new council voted on policy issues. It compares planning and policy-making of the Unicity years to those of the Metro government era (1960-71). Finally, it provides analysis and recommendations. The paper argues that Unicity introduced a number of improvements and innovations, but the change did not adequately address the basic problems of urban governance in Winnipeg, particularly a lack of citizen engagement, and a lack of cogent, long-term approach to neighbourhood and social planning. The report found that reorganizing the regional system of governance was a worthwhile endeavor, but that this does not necessarily lead to better regional governing practices. Moreover, the impact of Unicity is secondary to the impacts federal and provincial government on the Greater Winnipeg region. It concludes by saying that further political and administrative reforms are necessary to have citizens be more engaged, and for local government to be more responsive to the community.

Report (PDF)

A Test for Institutional Innovation: Winnipeg’s Unicity, 1974.

Axworthy, L., Lightbody, J., Pawluk, L., Sherba, C.

This short paper is a broad look at Winnipeg’s political landscape in the years immediately following Unicity, and its impact on electoral politics, citizen engagement, planning, and administration. There is a brief historical background of Winnipeg’s political culture and public attitudes toward municipal government, Winnipeg’s economic position, the creation of Metro government, and the various proposals for municipal reform leading up to the implementation of Unicity in 1972. It looks for changes in the civic political structure by examining parties and coalitions, election results, and voter turnouts. While suburban interests quickly came to dominate Winnipeg politics after the formation of Unicity, the new structure had clearly made taxation more equitable by raising property tax mill rates in former suburban municipalities to rates comparable to those in the central city. The paper finds that the new Unicity government’s Resident Advisory Groups were becoming increasingly marginalized by council, in spite of showing some signs of being an effective and useful part of the planning and governing process. Unicity created increased efficiency in the area of downtown planning, though this raised the concern that not enough long-term planning and careful consideration of development proposals occur. Regional planning, meanwhile, continued to be met by conflict and opposition from the new Unicity government. This paper also raises concerns over what seemed to be a growing concentration of power at the administrative level, and a lack of local control when it comes to the provision of services.

Paper (PDF)

Unicity: The Transition (short version), 1975. 

Axworthy, L., Cassidy, J.

The material used to write this short paper is taken from the longer, more extensive study of the same name. It examines Unicity as a tool for better planning and management and greater democratic practices and engagement at the municipal level. A brief look at Winnipeg’s political culture is given, as well as a summary of the conflicts and shortcomings of the Metro government era (1960-71). The paper highlights the uniqueness of the proposed Unicity system: that it would be more efficient by removing fragmentation in jurisdiction, while also making citizens better represented by government—a government for a major metropolitan area that was also local. These intentions for the Unicity scheme are compared to the actual performance in the first two years of Unicity. It found that the mayor and majority of councilors were not reform-minded, and that many of the old political habits and attitudes remained in place. In the area of greater citizen participation, there was early promise in the Resident Advisory groups (RAGs), but they quickly declined in importance and effectiveness. Administration was one area that saw significant improvements under Unicity, with city-wide standards in the provision of services, and more equitable tax structure. The paper concludes by saying that institutional reform alone cannot be expected to solve urban problems.

Paper (PDF)

Winnipeg: The Unicity Concept, 1976.

Axworthy, L.

This is a transcription of a speech given by Dr. Lloyd Axworthy to a seminar on regional government in 1976. It looks back candidly at some of the outcomes of Unicity, both from an administrative and democratic perspective. Axworthy pays particular attention to the original intent of the Resident Advisory Groups (RAGs) to be a more robust and decentralized form of political representation. The RAGs soon found themselves not adequately provided with necessary resources from either the City or Province, and became ineffective and largely irrelevant to the decision-making process. In looking at the political structure, this speech discusses how Unicity was seen as an attempt at creating a parliamentary system at the municipal level, and how the popular Winnipeg mayor Stephen Juba successfully fought for a directly-elected mayor. It also examines how Unicity created further dominance of suburban home-owner’s interests in Winnipeg politics. In spite of Unicity being an act aimed at reform, Axworthy suggests there was a lack of reform in the general political attitudes on council. Financial benefits of the Unicity structure, including the amalgamated city’s better position in the bond market, and more equitable taxation levels, are also highlighted.

Paper (PDF)


The Best Laid Plans Oft Go Astray: The Case of Winnipeg, 1978.

Axworthy, L.

(Report (PDF)

Evaluating Winnipeg's Unicity Government: Past Effort and Present Challenges, 1984.

Wichern, P. H.

Report (PDF)

Evaluating Winnipeg's Unicity: Citizen Participation and Resident Advisory Groups, 1971-1984, 1984.

Wichern, P H.

Report (PDF)

Evaluating Winnipeg’s Unicity: Scholarly and Practical Perspectives, 1985. 

Wichern, P.H.

A short paper prepared for the 1985 Canadian Urban Congress, it summarizes and evaluates scholarly and practical perspectives of Unicity thirteen years after its creation. This paper is academic in its perspective and language, with a strong focus on the evaluation, and consideration of the limitations of existing literature on Unicity. This paper concludes by saying that further examination of Unicity and the intergovernmental relationship between the Province and City must take into consideration ecological dynamics of local politics: political culture and attitudes, community power structures, and the natural and built environments. The paper argues that much of what has been published on Unicity has not adequately addressed this level of analysis. However, the paper does make the general claim that Unicity has been a moderate success at being both a local and regional government, and that it has come to be accepted as Winnipeg’s government structure as a matter of course.

Paper (PDF)

The State of Unicity - 25 Years Later: Conference Proceedings (October 3-4 1997).

Klos, N., ed.

Proceedings (PDF)

IUS Newsletters. 1971-72

In 1971-1972 the IUS produced 11 issues of its newsletter called "Urban Issues". These newsletters contained short updates on the work of the IUS and often included information relevant to Unicity.

Urban Issues Vol. 1, No. 10 &11 (August/September 1972) Newsletter (PDF)
Urban Issues Vol. 1, No. 7&8 (May/June 1972) Newsletter (PDF)
Urban Issues Vol. 1, No. 6 (April 1972) Newsletter (PDF)
Urban Issues Vol. 1, No. 5 (March 1972) Newsletter (PDF)
Urban Issues Vol. 1, No. 4 (February 1972) Newsletter (PDF)
Urban Issues Vol. 1, No. 3 (January 1972) Newsletter (PDF)
Urban Issues Vol. 1, No. 2 (December 1971) Newsletter (PDF)
Urban Issues Vol. 1, No. 1 (November 1971) Newsletter (PDF)