Volume 48, Issue 4: July/August 2014
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 urban politics.
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.