Central Themes

Regional Development

Regional development is a purposeful and systematic intervention through public policy(ies), programs, projects and a variety of practices in planning and management to influence the course of change in a relatively large spatial context (e.g. watershed, province, commutershed), toward a set of desired economic, social, cultural, physical, environmental and, occasionally, political development outcomes.


The primary sources of regional development are usually found in the public sector (e.g. Federal government, Provincial government), and often in particular agencies of government whether centrally based (e.g. Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Department of Economic Development), or regionally based (e.g. ACOA). However, this type of area-based initiative may emanate from parastatal or semi-state bodies such as hydroelectric authorities. Likewise, it might emanate from composite multi-level public sector organizations such as Conservation Authorities or similar agencies, or from regionally- based organizations that are managed by community interests, while funded by government agencies (e.g. CFDCs). They may also be sourced from regional level organizations that have significant government support, while not being a constituent part of any level of government (e.g. Regional Economic Development Agencies in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland & Labrador).

Besides government and related sources, some regional development initiatives may emanate from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These may have a particular sectoral focus (e.g. Nature Conservancy of Canada, Columbia River Trust). Some social development agencies (e.g. United Way) also organize selected activities (e.g. training, strategic planning) on a regional basis.

While many private corporations will plan some of their activities on a regional scale (e.g. marketing schemes, franchise planning), very few are directly engaged in regional development. A small number of corporations in (e.g. Bell Canada) and many cooperatives (e.g. The Cooperators) are active in local economic development.


The scope of regional development in Canada, and indeed in most other contexts, has been dominated by economic development priorities (e.g. job creation, business investment, physical infrastructure development, value-added processing), and not uncommonly, more narrowly defined economic growth priorities (e.g. exports, population). Social development priorities (e.g. health care, homelessness, child care) receive relatively little attention at the regional level. Cultural development at the regional level is even less attended to, either in the academic discourse or in public policy. Regional environmental foci are increasingly evident in waste management, watershed planning and management, and in more comprehensive development agendas.


What constitutes a “region” in terms of the geographic scale is undetermined and likely indeterminate. There are Regional Municipalities of relatively modest scale (e.g. 20 kilometres from east to west). Some public and private corporate policies divide Canada into conventional regions that are very large in scale (e.g. Prairies, Atlantic Canada). Most provinces and territories in Canada have long established and popularly identified regions (e.g. Peace Country, Gaspésie). Environmental planning will often have nested sub-regions within a larger watershed or similar region.


While the term “development” is almost a universal suffix, it is mainly so for economic development agendas, and may be replaced by “planning” and/or “management” for other regional projects (e.g. environmental). Even with the near universality of the term for economic and some other agendas, there is no universal agreement as to what constitutes “development”. It varies greatly across contexts and time periods, subject to the priorities of the source or sponsoring agency, the political and other fashions and other influences of the times, the disciplines informing the initiative, the record of previous regionally-based initiatives, and many other factors.

David Douglas, 2010

The project is examining five central themes:

The project is examining these five themes in three arenas: economic development, recreation, and water.