It takes a region: a case study of growth and governance in the St. John's city-region of Newfoundland and Labrador

Author/s: Brian Butt

Creation date: 2014-11-20

Contact info:

Senior supervisor: Patrick Smith

Keywords: City-region, Regional governance, Regionalism, Multilevel governance, Provincial-municipal, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic focus: St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Research question/s:

How did local-regional collaboration arrangements for regional planning, parks and trails, and other services come to be, who governs them and how are they are governed? What makes them successful or unsuccessful? What are the attributes necessary to help move regional planning efforts forward on the Northeast Avalon?


Governance of city-regions is a prominent concern of urbanizing areas around the globe. In the Canadian context, attempts to manage the governance challenges of city-regions have led to diverse and experimental structures, with amalgamation being one of the most common approaches. More recently, “new regionalism” has advocated for an emphasis on governance networks and partnerships rather than structural solutions. In the city-region of St. John’s, the response has been less textbook than either of these two common paths. The city-region has rejected both amalgamation and various regional governance initiatives, yet continues to collaborate on numerous regional services and policy arenas. St. John’s therefore provides an interesting case within which to evaluate an evolving set of regional governance structures and the extent to which the political dynamics of the local context impact adoption of regional solutions.


The findings provide a comprehensive picture of the inter-municipal and provincial-municipal dynamics of governing in the St. John’s city-region.  The author uncovered several insights into the impediments to successful regional governance in Northeast Avalon. For example, despite a number of effective single-purpose regional bodies there is a high level of power imbalance, distrust of the centre city, and a history of relations that are not conducive to advancing regionalism. The author also concluded that the province needs to act as a facilitator to help move local authorities beyond historical power dynamics and build trust. Furthermore, in order to improve relations with its neighbours, the City of St. John’s must seek collaborative solutions and put the amalgamation ghost to rest.