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Politics of Local Government
Political Studies
Undergraduate 3

Additional Political Studies Flashcards





Study of “local government in Canada”- historically had not attracted much academic attention


-   -Local government tended to be seen as just a combination of ‘elected and appointed administrators’ who carry out directives from the provincial government

20-considered administration of provincial government (regional school board, health board)


-     -Local government restricted to limited set of activities (roads, garbage, water, sewage, fire, police, local by-laws, land use planning)


-     -More interesting stuff (exercise of real power) going on at the provincial and federal levels ( local politics of little interest beyond the community)


-    -Local elected officials (mayors and city councillors)-low prestige that attracted little outside interest


-     -Local politics- content seen as banal- not seen as offering election campaigns or “visionary politics that had much significance


-     -Assumed local government lacked the powers or local autonomy and financial resources to make possible a broad and dynamic set of proposals


Recent Changes (since 1990’s)- greater research interest due to a variety of trends


-          ‘globalization’ (private investment over government investment) à caused manufacturers to move to cheaper areas, often wiping out the entire manufacturing base for the entire region (forestry in BC)


-          Not just unequal distribution by economic classes but also by region (forcing local governments to respond)


-         Demographic trends and population distribution- some areas growing while some declining (in the past tended to assume that ‘places just grow’ in population and complexity-not true), Thunder Bay, Vancouver, Winnipeg


-          Reductions in transfer payments and services by most provincial governments in an effort to ‘balance books’ (leaving local governments to address variety of new issues)- leads to property taxes being increased (year after year), leads to the increase accountability at the local level


Recognition that ‘small cities’ as regional centers have merged as distinctive entities (unique characteristics and problems versus ‘big cities’ or ‘towns’)


-          Local efforts at self preservation and self promotion (soliciting investment opportunities nationally and internationally, advertising local strengths and advantages, ‘branding’ i.e.-Tournament Capital of Canada)


-          Greater political organizing, networking, and lobbying of provincial and federal governments by local governments via municipal associations


-          Emergence of multi-level governance in variety of areas (complex partnerships between three levels of government)

-          Citizen concerns over environmental issues, ‘sustainable development’ and ‘quality of life issues)


-          Increased local pressures by residents for range of services and facilities and to address economic and social issues


Local governments operating in a much more demanding economic and political environment


-          Requires higher levels of expertise (need to draw on broader array of consultants and experts than ever before), thus offering more opportunities for research and employment


-          3600+ municipalities in Canada (cities, towns, hamlets, villages)


-          Great variations in size and scope of all activities (all under same provincial legal framework)



1.      1. Serve the administrative needs of the provincial government (original vision)



-          Simply an extension of the political government administrative structure




-         No more special than any other portfolio (not high profile)


-         B.C.- under the ministry of community, sport and cultural developmen


-        Allows for efficient allocation of provincial resources




Implications of veiw that they serve the administrative needs of the provincial government :


-          Minimalist perspective on purpose of local government (basic infrastructure and service function-police, fire, garbage, roads, water, sewage), anything else could be called perks (parks, cultural facilities etc) and they don’t necessarily feel obligated to provide these services


-          Limited vision despite increased urbanization- so very limited urban Planning- land use and related infrastructure, rather than creating vibrant communities (which would require aforementioned perks


-          No larger vision for cities as contrasted with the European view which focuses on cultural, environmental and health planning


Under 1867 BNA Act provincial governments given full authority over ‘municipalities’ (and have been protective of that authority):


-          Recognition and classification of  local governments

-          Determination of responsibilities (may change at will depending on the provincial government of the day)

-          Reorganization (adding government tiers or introducing “amalgamations”)- late 1990’s Ontario- got rid of 400+ local governments

-          Oversight and veto power on all local government laws, initiatives or taxation practices

-          Subject to alterations in funding and changes in provincial priorities (without consultation)

-    1950's to 1980's this was not a problem: provinces took on more responsibilities, but financed them adequately (health, education, infrastructure, social services, local facilities-sports, arts)


1990-Present- federal and provincial governments try to ‘balance budgets’ and reduce overall size of governments


-          Considerable friction as local government subject to ‘downloading/offloading’ and ‘restructuring’ by both levels of government (property taxes go up, put of maintenance until serious)

-          Local levels where effects seen: poverty and homelessness, declining infrastructure, limited support for amenities (and local governments lack funds and authority to address issues)


British Columbia- seen (by some) as a new emerging model with progressive features concerning provincial-municipal relations:


-          Recognition of municipalities as an order of government (not clear if any real authority just simple recognition)

-          Provision of a dispute resolution process (not clear if there is agreement on where the dispute mechanism can be used)

-          Discretion resides with the provinces

-          Requirement of provincial consultation to changes in grants or legislation affecting municipalities

-          Provision of powers such that municipalities may provide any service that the local council considers necessary or desirable


Municipalities still subordinate to provincial directives, but clarified processes (consultation) suggest higher level of mutual respect (but perhaps not in practice)


-          Recent issues- province cancelled provincial share of funding for tourism, arts, school programs, etc (increased property tax to meet the needs)

-          Local planning- set aside land for ‘social housing’ (no consultation)

-          Federal provincial contract with the RCMP (dumped extra costs onto communities 1 million a year for Kamloops alone)

-          Mandated municipal auditor-oversee local spending

-          Raises question of whether or not there actually can be effective provincial-local consultation


1)   Purpose of local government




-          serve administrative needs of province (long established tradition- includes provincial corps)

-          Raises question of whether or not there can be effective provincial-local consultation

-          Minimalist approach to local government (cost effective)

-          Top down approach

BC:  issue especially contentious due to 20 years of negotiations developing a more consultative process (that repeatedly breaks down)

-           support needs of national (& provincial) economy



1)      Support needs of national (and provincial) economy


-          Local government exists to serve an economic function: mining, forestry, agriculture, fishing, oil/gas (most obvious in ‘one industry towns”)

-          seaports, transportation hubs, processing facilities, manufacturing, utilities

-          local services (private and public sector)- there to support main economic activities

-          local government  a secondary role in ensuring necessary infrastructure and land use planning in place to accommodate economic needs (residential, commercial, industrial)

-          residents (needs)- drop in terms of priority relative to the biggest private sector investorsàonly reason for provincial government investment



1.      3)Serve the need and aspirations of local citizens



-          Local government a mechanism to forge the type of community residents would like to live in


Community and community development- powerful terms that have increased citizen role well-beyond just voting in local elections:


-          Opinion polling and surveys

-          Open council meetings

-          Yearly budget consultation

-          Consultation on ‘community plan’ (land use)

-          Neighbourhood plans (amenities and revitalization) input on sports and recreation

-          Consultation on cultural and social planning

-          Considerable input from residents in fostering a better community (improving quality of life), question of whether or not can be balanced with other purposes?

Existing approach (community development)

-          sink or swim, do what you can to come up with your own local approach to put yourself on the map (attract the interest of investors, tourists, retirees)

-          Provincial governments provide bridge funding to support local initiatives

-          Question of whether or not a waste of time and money (provincial governments playing politics)


Problem for critical observers that each of these entities serves different territorial regions (thus have no reason to collaborate with or coordinate planning with other entities)


-          Adopt a regional focus over maintaining a narrow municipal focus (e.g. quebec, European countries)- enhanced GVRD model (greater Vancouver regional district)

-          Create common boundaries for range of services (planning and regulatory functions)

-          Increase role and influence of existing regional entities already in place for services and regulatory purposes

-          Develop comprehensive regional plans for economic strategies, tourism, arts and culture (strengthen links to smaller communities for First Nations people)

-          Integrate health, social services, education planning with regional economic goals


Study of Urban Politics (from small towns to large cities):


-          variety of disciplines (political science, sociology, economics, and geography) have all examined urban governance from respective Perspectives:

-          influenced aspects of urban studies and planning, managerial and local business practices, economic development, efforts at “community revitalization”

-          Early studies looked at what local governments do and who they served at the local level:

-          Community power studies (elite theorists versus pluralists) – based on variety of community case studies

Elite Theorists

-          urban areas run by small groups of notables who are interconnected politically, economically and socially and determine power behind the scenes(subordinating power of elected and administrative officials)

-          comprised of large property owners and owners / managers of local industries (but studies unclear as to how exercised power and suggested a conspiratorial approach to how power exercised locally)

Elite Theorists: Main Premise

-          “local government” captured by local elite interests– local government more of a façade that hides the exercise of real power (relevance of theory to Canada unclear – as provincial role so powerful at local level)

-          more relevant to the US


-          power at local level fragmented and diffuse (which is a good thing) and have differing coalitions of individuals involved in different issue areas (but revealed that at any given time only a small number locally active while large numbers were not).

Pluralists: Main Premise

-          “local government” responds to the strongest coalition of interests

-          Elite theorists skeptical – suggested that pluralist focus on decision-making lost sight of fact that the types of issues to make more “popular” decisions on only took place because did not threaten the interests of privileged local elites


 “Growth Machines” (expansion of elite theory): 


-          Coalition of local interests built around the property development industry that acts out of its vested interests to espouse an ideology of value-free development, and that markets should determine local

-          comprised of property owners (commercial and residential rentals),property developers, owners senior managers from local industries

-          Also includes local entrepreneurs and the real estate industry (linked to financing, construction companies, engineers and lawyers)

-          often supported by universities, professional sports clubs, and labour unions for “general growth” and specific redevelopment ventures

-          Nature of coalition forces city/town councils to accept “growth agenda” irrespective of detrimental effects at local level (those favoring selective or anti-growth strategies often have concerns overridden)


 “Growth Machines” (expansion of elite theory Main Premise: 


 “local government” actively supports “growth agenda”


Regime theory (expansion of pluralist theory)


-          Agrees that business interests have a privileged status and role in local politics, but under certain conditions other coalitions may emerge to influence, alter or scuttle certain business initiatives

Coalitions- strength and persistence may depend on size/occupational diversity of community

-          ‘regime’ defined as informal arrangements in which local public institutions and private interests function together to make and carry out governing decisions


different types of coalitions then emerge at the local level (one or another may be dominant-occupy city hall, depending on context):


1)     1) Pro-growth coalition (from ‘growth machine model)

2)      2)Growth management coalition- use planning and other regulations to limit or direct local growth (urban planners, heritage groups, specific residential neighbourhoods, certain local business groups)

3)      3)Social reform coalition- focus on community over business development (anti-poverty groups, health professionals, environmentalists, recreational advocates, local arts community)

4)      4)Fiscally conservative caretaker coalition- want to limit role of local government to provision of core services (local home and business owners concerned about rising property taxes and utility costs)

 Fiscally conservatves problems with all 3:

-          1) Infrastructure cost absorbed by local government

-          2)Selective growth, heritage, etc- Cost money to maintain

-          3)Costly agenda that has yet to be determined


Regime Theory:Main premise



-           ‘local government’ contends with and comprised of conflicting factions requiring complex negotiations and compromises

-          Accounts for differences in ‘local governments’

-          Example: Vancouver’s city council made up of groups 2 and 3- Gregor Robertson’s working a project to end homelessness in Vancouver (gives a sense of the coalition put together in the city council)


Marxist theory


-           capitalist system creates and organizes a physical landscape for private sector profit making (thus establishing a network of towns and cities) which require some form of local governance

-          Local government under the capitalist system about subsidizing the costs of ‘doing business’ to retain and attract investment (providing infrastructure work force and services) and fostering a collective context for consumption

-          Problem for local government that capitalism an inherently unstable system of production and consumption (investment and production needs changing all the time)

-          Capitalism unstable- less obvious  in largest urban centers

-          What may be the right local government investments in one time period, may not be appropriate for another as capitalist system evolves (thus explaining why some locales important in one time period and not another and why many disappear)

-          Under capitalist system communities compelled to struggle with other communities to retain and attract investment and people

-          Competition takes many forms- attracting sports teams, hosting sporting and artistic events, building conference centers, promoting infrastructure advantages, offering regulatory and utility advantages, expanding tourism


Marxist theory: Main Premise

local government highly active outside the demands of local coalitions in soliciting investment-public private-and people(exercise some degree of autonomy that may be at the expense of local interests)

Late 1800’s/early 20th century Kamloops- First nations settlement, fur trading, ‘frontier village’, (supplying miners and ranchers), then CPR and CNR linked area to coasts


-          Diversification into saw mills, then agriculture processing (fruits, vegetables, tobacco) until early 1960s (but remained collection of small towns spread across valley)

-          City largely shaped by resource boom of 1960’s and 70’s:

Forestry (saw mills and pulp) and mining (copper, gold), government infrastructure projects

-          Took town of 13,000 (1960) to 64,000 (1981)

-          Brought about two amalgamations (1967 and 1973), and an effort to plan for continued and rapid population growth (difficult task)

-          North Shore pissed off because all the services and new things are built across the river- integration is still an ongoing process

-          Kamloops has the highest development costs in B.C. for a city

-          Local planners envisioned 100,000 by 1990 and 160,000 to perhaps over 200,000 by 2000

-          Industrial services and high-wage union jobs fostered general prosperity during time period


B.C.  provincial restructuring (2001-present)- effort to restore private sector profitability and reduce government expenditures (positives and negatives for Kamloops)



1.   1)   ‘rationalization’ in the forestry and mining sectors (no more government imposed obligations to local communities for employment or services)

-          BC Liberals- forestry industry- investment going elsewhere, did not want to maintain/invest in small facilities

-          Restore investment in resource sector (but at the expense of numerous small communities)

-          Surrounding Kamloops area- declining population

-          Jobs lost to technology 50,000, 30,000 in the interior

1.    2)  Centralization of government services (no effort to provide range of services to all communities), Kamloops net beneficiary

-          Closure of schools, government agencies, healthcare services, etc. In numerous small towns in the interior

-          Enhances significance of Kamloops as a regional center (but at the expense of a more balanced and dynamic region)

-          Much higher dependence on government spending than in the past to provide high paying jobs (issue of present economic crisis fostering government restraint in spending)

Biggest employers: school district, hospital and related services, TRU



Local Government- responsibilities concentrated in the elected council and carried out by appointed staff (simple structure)


-          Mayor and council (committee system)= appointed staff-local city workers, chief administrative officer

-          No separate executive and legislative branches, as functions collapsed into one level (city/town council)

-          Not organized along ‘party lines’-consensus model

-          Allows any elected councillor to initiate proposals or speak out on issues (not restricted by prescribed roles as with provincial and federal governments)


Functions of city/ town councils:


-          Represent the local community

-          acts on behalf of community (interact with-lobby- provincial authorities)

-          Policy role in determining services and service-levels, approving budgets, enacting and revising local by-laws (debates tend to be dominated by land use issues and revisions)

-          Oversight on municipal operations to ensure policies are implemented, funds expended as authorized, and programs delivered in an effective manner

-          Versus other levels of government has a high level of accountability due to proximity of government to community

-          Who gets elected- generally middle class individuals with business or professional background, and some record of public service in the community

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