Mo Power Mo Problems

So, this is a big topic. What is mayoral power, anyway? What kind of power do Canadian mayors have?

It's so big that you can do a PhD dissertation on it. Or, you can read mine.

Here's the short version:

1. Every province and territory in Canada has legislation that lays out the legal power of mayors. Almost all municipalities also have bylaws that prescribe formal power to mayors. And, there are some big differences. Did you know that the Mayor of St. John's has the legal power to "prosecute and punish" negligence? Or that the Mayor of Montreal can suspend employees? Or that the Mayor of Winnipeg can suspend Council decisions for a period of time? Well, it's true. The legal powers of mayors are all a bit different in each province and territory (and sometimes, within them).

2. However, if you were to only look at legal and formal power, you'd think that mayoral power is quite limited. You'd think that mayors basically just chair meetings and sign bylaws. Pick up any newspapers in Canada and you'll see that mayors do a heck of a lot more than that. Turns out, formal/legal powers just aren't that important in practice - and they don't tell us much about whether a mayor can actually get things done in practice. My research compared mayoral power "on paper" (read: legislation and bylaws) and "in practice" (read: perceptions of power, informed by interviews and survey data). Spoiler alert: they don't line up. At all.

3. I believe mayors can, in practice, be very powerful. I define "mayoral power" as being much larger than just formal/legal power. Mayoral power is also relational; it's the extent to which the mayor can influence and mobilize other actors engaged in local government. I argue that mayors are uniquely positioned at the nexus of the network of actors engaged in local government, and have an unparalleled ability to shape the engagement of others. It becomes a question of leadership (more on this in #7). Mayors play a shaping role in the governance of Canadian communities. That, ladies and gentlemen, is mayoral power

 

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