Never has municipal politics in Canada captured so much attention as
with Rob Ford’s tenure as mayor of Toronto. The miscreant mayor attracted
morbid curiosity worldwide with his crack-smoking, alcoholic rants, loutishness,
and consorting with criminal elements. While the crude, misogynistic,
homophobic person of Rob Ford finished by arousing disgust and
outrage in many quarters, Ford’s more enduring legacy in Toronto – his
austerity policies – did not. Those are regarded as necessary and desirable
by Toronto’s business community – one illustration of neoliberalism’s grip
on the administration of Canadian cities.
With elections pending in Toronto (September), Winnipeg (October) and
Vancouver (November), Canadian Dimension is training its critical lens on
About two-thirds of Canadians live in urban areas, defined by Statistics
Canada as areas with a minimum population of 1,000 and a density of at
least 400 persons per square kilometre. Decisions and choices made by
city administrations therefore have an enormous impact on day-to-day life
for a large majority of Canadians, and all the more so as urban infrastructure
across the country continues to crumble.
However, as political economist Carlo Fanelli shows in his essay for this
CD focus, it isn’t easy for local governments to withstand the pressure of
the prevailing neoliberal agenda at the provincial and federal levels, which
has resulted in constant offloading of responsibilities from higher levels of
government onto lower ones. Fanelli presents an overview of the ways in
which neoliberalism has shaped urban policies in Canada, paying particular
attention to the obstacles to reform posed by the current excessive reliance
of municipal governments on property taxes.
In a first social media crossover for Dimension, we are also reproducing a
lively and substantive exchange on Olivia Chow’s bid to replace Ford as
mayor of Toronto that took place in March on journalist Derrick O’Keefe’s
Facebook page. In that dialogue, what begins as a disagreement about the
pros and cons of the prospective election of Jack Layton’s widow soon
morphs into a debate about the limits of electoral politics generally.
BC-based journalist and PhD candidate Michael Stewart treats us to
some engaging and insightful commentary on political problems besetting
the city of Vancouver under the administration of Mayor Gregor Robertson.
He sounds a note of cautious optimism with regard to the progressive
options in the impending election and particularly the revitalized Coalition
of Progressive Electors (COPE).
Finally, CD assembled a roundtable of local actors in Winnipeg to talk
about the failings of the three-term Katz administration, which stands
accused of corruption and incompetence, and to consider what difference
another government could make to some of the problems facing the Peg.
These essays and exchanges throw into relief a reality too often underplayed
in thinking about the municipal arena: city government is every bit
as political as other levels, and the stakes are high for the several million
urban dwellers who will be summoned to the polls in the months ahead.