Tag Archives: municipal government


In Canada, the mention of federalism generally puts us in mind of federal government initiatives that are carried out in co-operation with provincial and territorial governments. Sometimes provincial initiative is also a factor, especially in recent years, since the creation of the Council of the Federation, an association of provincial and territorial premiers that aims “to play a leadership role in revitalizing the Canadian federation and building a more constructive and cooperative federal system.”
We are less likely to think in terms of municipal or community initiative, but community initiative in intergovernmental relations is a current reality, in fact one that has been with us for some time, though it remains an exception to the rule of top-down government. In the late 1960s, in the most epic of Canada’s battles over plans for urban expressways, citizens opposing the Spadina Expressway made a strategic decision to bypass Metropolitan Toronto Council and take their case to the Ontario Municipal Board and the provincial cabinet, and it was the cabinet that gave them their victory.

Continue reading


In Canadian city politics, a fully-fledged party system, with a ruling party and a well-organized opposition, is a rarity. In the eyes of much of the public, parties are viewed with suspicion. Party discipline is seen as replacing common-sense problem-solving with knee-jerk disputatiousness while restricting the ability of politicians to stand up for the interests of their constituents.
From this point of view, non-partisan municipal politics is marked by the exercise of individual good judgement, intelligent compromise and responsiveness of politicians to the wishes of constituents, while partisan politics is blighted by shrill argumentation and mindless submission to party dictates. Often parties are also seen as representing special interests, while non-partisan politicians are thought to be more likely to be tuned in to the interests of the city as a whole.
And yet, politicians keep organizing themselves. In Toronto, it is normal to think of city council as comprising a left wing and a right wing. Montreal and Vancouver have for decades had ruling parties, whether or not there is a functioning opposition. In Winnipeg, formal and informal business parties and opposition parties periodically appear on the scene, only to disappear again. In a bow to public opinion, organized groups of councillors often insist that they are just good people working together, not political parties, but organize themselves they do again and again.

Continue reading