Interview with Pascal Lavoie (FCM)

Pascal Lavoie from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) underlines the relevance of the newly launched working group on decentralisation, local governance and gender within the DeLoG network.

Pascal Lavoie is the Director of the International Program at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and co-chair for the Capacity and Institution Building (CIB) Working Group of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). Pascal holds a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Montreal, and has 20 years of experience in decentralization and local governance capacity development. He has developed, managed, implemented, and evaluated dozens of global, national and local institutional development projects, including at home in Canada, and in over 25 countries from many regions of the world. Pascal has been with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) since 2005, and is the director of its international program since 2021.

DeLoG: Pascal, as DeLoG’s current Focal Point at the FCM, could you tell us a little bit more about your current work at FCM & CIB and how you got involved with FCM in the first place?

Pascal Lavoie: This is three questions in one. Let me start with my work at FCM.I started working a FCM in 2005. At that time, I was based in Vietnam as an intern, supporting municipal cooperation projects between local governments and Canadian counterparts. As an urban planner, I strongly believe that local governments are the place where we need to act. The majority of people are going to live in cities. The problems are there, but also the leadership, the innovations, the economy to change things. As such, I put a lot of my attention into trying to see how we can support local government leaders and their administration to deliver to citizens in a more inclusive manner.

One of the key books that has informed my views is “Local Government in Canada”, written by Richard and Susan Tindal –a best seller that has been reedited 9 times over the last 25 years. The authors explain well the dual mandate that local governments play, as both engines to improve the quality of life in communities and as a key mechanism for social inclusion. I believe this duality is true everywhere. In the latest editions of the book, the writers state that the neoliberal agenda that has largely dominated our development paradigm over the last several decades has overemphasized the first part of the role of municipalities. There is a real need to shift the focus on inclusive governance.

A lot of the work that FCM is trying to advance right now is on gender equality. Gender equality often misunderstood as ensuring that women have access to services. The truth is broader – we need to ensure that women’s rights are upheld, and we need to address inequalities relative to how they have equal and fair access to power, access to resources, and opportunities to develop their communities. That is what we are trying to do at FCM, which is also my own personal commitment. For example, when you get women elected as officials in an equal proportion or a representative manner in local governments, the decisions made start to change.

FCM is the national association of local governments in Canada, with about 2.000 members and representing over 90 percent of the Canadian population through those members. Our key responsibility is to bring the municipal movement together and to represent their interest to the federal government. What we internationally do is an extension of that core purpose – working with others who are also seeking to advance decentralization, local government leadership, empowerment and building stronger communities. We've been doing that since 1987.

Last but not least, I’ll say a few words about the Capacity and Institutions Building (CIB) Working Group of UCLG, which I am co-chairing with Dr. Neila Akrimi of VNG International. This is a very important community of practice for local government associations and other UCLG members involved in decentralized development cooperation. Through the CIB, we share intelligence about the sector, we build relationships and learn from one another, and we promote the value of decentralized cooperation to achieve SDGs. It’s really a space of collective leadership on topics such as gender equality, inclusive governance and approaches to capacity development.

There are a lot of parallel, and potential for collaborations and sharing between the CIB and DeLoG. We have similar interests, and diverse experiences that can really enrich our views, strategies and toolboxes.

DeLoG: Why is the nexus of decentralization, local governance, and gender relevant for FCM? And why do gender related topics matter to you personally?

Pascal Lavoie: I have three daughters, and gender equality really feels personal to me. When I think of them right now, I feel the trend is generally going in the right direction. But there’s still much work to do. Gender equality and inclusion is a cyclical thing. Think back to the late 1990s when there was a lot of push for gender equality after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, and other international conventions. There’s been progress, but it also feels like the same issues continue to exist. If we don't seize the opportunities to advance a more equal and inclusive agenda when the momentum is there, then there is a real risk of loosing ground.

In Canada, I have also worked for a couple of years on Reconciliation with Indigenous People. The big issue is colonialism and how to change the dynamic of power, and redress historic injustice. The fight for gender equality is a bit similar, both are fundamentally human rights issues.

When FCM started to be more deliberate about the feminist development agenda in its international program, I realized that we didn't have the data and evidence about how we affected gender equality. This was really an eye opener. There were a lot of blind spots in our work with local governments. Public institutions are fundamentally about power, decisions and resource allocation. The fact that we did not know our impact very well is a good indication that probably, at least in some instances, we were not doing the right thing. Gender equality is not only about men and women, but also about an intersectional approach to understand development. I strongly believe we can, and must do better.

DeLoG: According to your personal experience, what can institutions and authorities do to integrate gender perspectives into local governance systems?

Pascal Lavoie: When Global Affairs Canada adopted the feminist international agenda, we started to ask ourselves some difficult questions. Many of our projects were not adequately designed to empower women. But what we had to do first was to measure what we were doing to “see” how our projects were working with and supporting women. Better monitoring and evaluation is a big part of the answer if we want to improve our practice. I strongly believe in an evidence-based approach to learning and development.

Politics and advocacy also have a very important place to play to change things. And then, we need to bring people and organizations together to advance this agenda. There are so many tools, so much evidence already available out there, gathered by various organisations, but it takes us forever to collect and filter this information to be able to use it. So what can we do about this?

With the CIB, DeLoG and other global and national partners –including local government associations from Benin, Cambodia, Ghana, Sri Lanka, and Zambia–, we’ve launched a “Gender Knowledg Hub” partnership last October. We have identified three priorities for the next two years:

  1. Engaging and supporting women elected leaders to be more present in global forum and advocacy efforts;
  2. Developing a toolbox on gender equality for local government associations, and;
  3. Making data and evidence related to gender equality more accessible.

These are kind of low-hanging fruits, but nonetheless require a lot of work to locate and curate information, and connect people with opportunities. I think we have a good group with DeLoG to make those things happen.

DeLoG: What type of DeLoG network would you like to see and shape in the future, also regarding to the newly launched working group focusing on decentralization, local governance, and gender equality?

Pascal Lavoie: We're in a time of change. DeLoG and CIB were created around 16 or 17 years ago. At that time, there was a convergence of efforts for decentralization and local governance capacity building. Now, we are in the early days of the post-Covid-19 era and the world is a different place. We need to recreate conversations. I think it's important that DeLoG continues to be driven by the key five, six, or seven donors who continue to think that decentralization is a key element of making the world essentially better. As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of synergies possible with the CIB. Let's find the right way to collaborate. The topics that DeLoG has identified –gender equality, inclusive local finance, and local democracy– show that we all are talking about the same things. We need to bring those conversations together. Let’s be creative. 

DeLoG: Is there anything you would like to add and to share with our readers?

Pascal Lavoie: The CIB is having its annual meeting in Marrakesh in the week of May 15, and we are planning to have a joint event with DeLoG during that week. I really hope that many of the DeLoG members and partners will join us in Marrakesh –especially from the Global South– to create deeper personal connections and forge our collaborations for the years to come.