The Victoria Forum 2024
The Victoria Forum 2024 - Building Trust for a Shared Future

Whither cities:

Addressing economic, social and environmental challenges during and beyond Covid-19


Whither cities:

Addressing economic, social and environmental challenges during and beyond Covid-19

Date: June 11, 2020

Why do civilizations decline or disappear? Some historians would suggest that inequality is one key reason why this happens. Some scholars have suggested that when less privileged members of a society feel particularly aggrieved by inequality they might just tear an entire society down.

One way societies address this critical issue of economic and social inequality is to allow cities to have a fair bit of autonomy and find local ways to resolve key issues faced by their citizens. The density of people helped cities efficiently provide their citizens with key services such as schools, public libraries, health care, transportation, entertainment, and in the process organically incubated new knowledge, and new products and services. While cities did not eliminate the very human problems of forms of discrimination (racism, sexism, parochialism etc.) they did offer new members of their society hope in the form of opportunity.

The Corona virus driven pandemic has forced isolation on all societies, urban, suburban, and rural. This has led to serious challenges to the raison d’etre of cities – aggregation and jostling for shared spaces leading to creativity and innovation.  How can and should cities respond to this immense challenge imposed by the current pandemic that has the promise of new solutions to not just alleviate but seriously redress economic, social and environmental inequality?

This webinar is designed to enrich our collective understanding of implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on urban divides and explore innovative solutions in response to it. A panel of experts will address the following questions:

  • How cities are responding to this immense challenge imposed by the current pandemic?
  • What are the impacts of the pandemic on economic, social and environmental divides in urban contexts?
  • What are the promises of new solutions to not just alleviate but seriously redress urban economic, social and environmental divides?


The Honorable Jim Munson, Senator, Senate of Canada

Senate of Canada

Senator Jim Munson is best known to Canadians as a trusted journalist and communications advisor. He reported on current affairs for more than thirty years, most notably as a bureau chief and foreign correspondent for CTV News. His reporting touched upon events around the globe – from Belfast to Beijing – including the First Gulf War, the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the Tiananmen Square Massacre. At home, he covered the FLQ crisis in Quebec and later, in Ottawa, every Canadian government and federal election from 1974 onwards. Senator Munson was twice nominated for a Gemini Award in recognition of excellence in journalism.

In 2001, following his career as a reporter, Senator Munson joined the Prime Minister’s Office as a communications advisor and was made Director of Communications the following year. He was called to the Senate on December 10, 2003, to represent the province of Ontario and served as Whip of the Senate Liberal Caucus from 2008 to 2016.

Senator Munson sits as a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology and the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets, and Administration. He is a vocal advocate for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder. His leadership in Parliament led to the adoption of An Act respecting World Autism Awareness Day and the landmark Senate report Pay Now or Pay Later: Autism Families in Crisis.


Ratna Omidvar headshot
The Honorable Ratna Omidvar

Senator, Senate of Canada

Ratna Omidvar is an internationally recognized voice on migration, diversity and inclusion. She came to Canada from Iran in 1981 and her own experiences of displacement, integration and citizen engagement have been the foundation of her work. In April 2016, Ms. Omidvar was appointed to the Senate of Canada as an independent senator representing Ontario. As a member of the Senate’s Independent Senators Group she holds a leadership position as Liaison. Senator Omidvar also served as Deputy Chair of the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector.

Senator Omidvar is a Councillor on the World Refugee Council, a Director at the Samara Centre for Democracy and Chair Emerita for the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

Previously at Ryerson University, Senator Omidvar was a Distinguished Visiting Professor and founded the Global Diversity Exchange, a think-and-do tank on diversity, migration and inclusion. Prior to her appointments at Ryerson, Senator Omidvar was the President of Maytree, where she played a lead role in local, national and international efforts to promote the integration of immigrants.

Senator Omidvar is co-author of Flight and Freedom: Stories of Escape to Canada (2015), an Open Book Toronto best book of 2015 and one of the Toronto Star’s top five good reads from Word on the Street. She is also a contributor to The Harper Factor (2016) and co-editor of Five Good Ideas: Practical Strategies for Non-Profit Success (2011). Senator Omidvar received a Honorary Degree, Doctor of Laws, from Ryerson University in 2018 and from York University in 2012.

Deputy Mayor Shirley Rodrigues

Deputy Mayor of London UK

Shirley Rodrigues was appointed as Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy in October 2016. She is using her environmental expertise to work with Transport for London (TfL) to deliver the Mayor’s plans for tackling air pollution across London. This includes expanding the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), new charges for the oldest and most polluting vehicles, and creating Low Emission Bus Zones.

She is also overseeing delivery of the Energy for Londoners program (helping Londoners generate more low-carbon electricity), helping to boost London’s recycling rates and cutting landfill. She’s working to deliver the ambitious target of London becoming a zero-carbon city by 2050. Shirley was Acting Executive Director for Climate Change at the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), an independent philanthropic organization that works to transform the lives of poor and vulnerable children in developing countries.

She helped establish CIFF’s cities and climate strategy and represented CIFF on the board of the C40 Large Cities Leadership Group – a network of global cities committed to addressing climate change. Shirley has an impressive track record of developing new environmental policies in London. She worked in senior environmental policy roles from 2005 to 2009, helping to implement the London Low Emission Zone and programs to retrofit London’s residential and commercial buildings.

Ms. Deborah Bonetti

Director, Foreign Press Association in UK

Former President and now Director of the Foreign Press Association in London (FPA), the oldest association of foreign journalists in the world (which celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2018). She is responsible for organizing the program of briefings and events at the FPA and editing the weekly bulletin. Deborah is working as UK correspondent for the Italian national daily newspaper QN -Il Giorno, covering a variety of topics (mostly Brexit). Deborah has co-written a book on Brexit (out January 2019) titled: “Do They Mean us? The Foreign Correspondents’ View on Brexit” with FPA colleagues and other journalists, published by Bite-Sized Books.

Mr. David Miller

Director, C40 Cities

David Miller is the Director of International Diplomacy for C40 Cities. Mr. Miller was Mayor of Toronto from 2003 to 2010, and served as Chair of C40 Cities from 2008 until 2010. Under his leadership, Toronto became widely admired internationally for its environmental leadership, economic strength and social integration.

He is a leading advocate for the creation of sustainable urban economies, and a strong and forceful champion for the next generation of jobs through sustainability. Mr. Miller has held a variety of public and private positions and served as Future of Cities Global Fellow at Polytechnic Institute of New York University from 2011 to 2014, was an Adjunct Professor at York University in Toronto and has an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Waterloo in Environmental Studies.

Prior to joining the C40, Mr. Miller served as the President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund-Canada, Canada’s foremost conservation organization. David Miller is a Harvard trained economist and professionally a lawyer.

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