My Great Canadian Adventure

imageThis Saturday, I begin a two-month journey across Canada to complete my PhD dissertation research. I fly to St. John’s, Newfoundland early on Saturday morning. From there I will wander west, visiting the largest city in each Canadian province until I reach Vancouver, British Columbia towards the end of June.

The journey will involve travel by train, plane, car, boat, bike and one helicopter ride. I am working to add a canoe trip to the list. I will be staying at a combination of Airbnbs, university residences, family member guest rooms, and hotels (for the odd splurge, and to reload on shampoo).

In case you didn’t notice, my research project is about Canadian mayors.

Over the past year, I’ve been studying the role of mayors from my desk. I’ve examined relevant legislation and bylaws in each city; I’ve completed a literature review on what has been written about mayors in Canada; I’ve analyzed institutional structures influencing the role of the mayor across cities.

Now the fun begins.

Over the next two months, it’s interview time. My job is to listen, observe and learn. I have interviews scheduled across the country to understand various perspectives about the role of mayors:

  • Political perspectives: mayors, past mayors, deputy mayors, and councillors;
  • Administrative perspectives: city managers and other senior administrators; and
  • Community perspectives: media who closely follow City Hall, and community leaders.

Although I will be keeping the names of those I meet with confidential, I will be openly sharing insights, learnings and curiosities along the way. I’m thankful to those who are making time to speak with me. I have a feeling I have two months of very interesting conversation ahead.

By the end of this journey, I hope to have a more nuanced understanding of the role of urban mayors, and how it varies across Canada’s cities. I suspect I will also learn a thing or two about the unique dynamics of local politics in Canada.

I believe mayors are among the most important, and least understood, leaders in Canada. This has troubling practical, theoretical and democratic implications. Through this study, I want to make a small dent in shaping how Canadians think about our mayors. Over time, I hope we can replace tired phrases like ‘weak mayors’ and ‘one vote on council’ with a Canadian-made understanding of our most important local officials.

Between interviews in City Hall offices and writing in coffee shops, I’m also going to get to know our country a bit better.

I will wander along our Atlantic and Pacific coasts. I want to find myself breathless riding a train through the Rocky Mountains, and marvel at the seeming endlessness of the Canadian prairies. I will explore downtowns, chat up the locals, and sample a few local brews.

(In the event my advisor is reading this: I promise my focus will be on the interviews, though!)

It’s going to be two months of learning, listening and living a decidedly Canadian experience.

I hope you join me. Take 3 minutes and tell me what you think about Canadian mayors. Contact me if you have a suggestion or insight to share. Follow the journey on the blog or @mayorsproject on Twitter.

This will be a once in a lifetime experience for me, and I can’t wait for it to begin.