Canadian city councils are programmed to be weak. Unlike provincial legislatures or the House of Commons, city councils are not well-placed to write legislation that enables meaningful change, let alone implement it so that change actually takes place. In many cases they are not even well-positioned to exercise meaningful control over their own public servants. Nor do they exercise much clout over the all-important development industry. Generally, the only way our city governments are capable of being seriously influential at all is if there is a strong mayor. In that sense, our cities, like banana republics, face a bleak choice between autocracy and a weak state.
The weakness of our local legislatures – because that is what city councils are – is the result of a long, complex history that we can look at another time. The purpose of this series of blog entries is to provide case study evidence of how easy it is for land developers and municipal public servants to manipulate city councils and the public. The evidence is selected from a sizeable storehouse of research that I have assembled during many years of conducting interviews and unearthing and analysing documents.
The techniques I’ll reveal are not news to municipal public servants and land developers. Most of them probably do not even think of them as manipulation, but simply consider them to be ordinary business practices. In fact, is not my intention to paint land developers and public servants as villains. They are only trying to do their jobs. As Shakespeare said,
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
In Canada, we live in a democracy, and we have consented to the governance of our cities and towns in a manner that makes fools of our representatives. We have no one to blame but ourselves.
I will continue this series with an examination of a tactic for the manipulation of city council that is a variation on a time-honoured sales tactic, the bait and switch. The case in question is that of the Eaton Centre, a case in which a land development company gained a city council commitment by offering the downtown revitalization equivalent of the moon and stars, but delivered much, much less. In a subsequent entry, I will set out how public servants got what they wanted from city council with the help of wildly inaccurate cost estimates for a new bridge.
To read the other two posts in this series click here and here