Canada’s Mayors Speak: A Survey of 105 Mayors

In January 2018, urban mayors across Canada participated in a survey administered by Public Square Research in partnership with the Mayors Project. Canada’s mayors were asked about their backgrounds, their jobs, and the issues facing their communities today.

No surprise: our mayors had lots to say!

Some highlights from the survey include …
• Canada’s mayors tend to be older, whiter, more male and more educated than Canada’s population
• The most common path to leadership involves serving on local council, and having previous private sector experience
• Most Canadian urban mayors define their role as being a “facilitator” and indicate that managing competing interests is the chief challenge of the role
• Economic development, a lack of support from other governments, and decaying infrastructure emerge as the top issues facing Canadian communities

Check out the survey results here:



Questions? Comments? Contact us, anytime.

What’s this about a research trip across Canada?

During May and June 2016, The Mayors Project traveled across Canada for the purpose of conducting interviews with mayors and the people who work most closely with them such as other elected officials, city managers, and members of the public.

The trip included stops in the 10 cities included in the study. Click the links to read about each visit:


Mayors Project Cities Map

What I learned about London by travelling across Canada


Today I arrived home from a trip across Canada. Over the past two months, I have travelled to cities in every Canadian province. The purpose of this cross-country trek was to study the role of mayors for my PhD dissertation.

It has been an extraordinary experience – personally, professionally and academically – and a more profound learning opportunity than even I expected. Yes, I learned a lot about mayors. I learned about local government, urban politics, and local political culture. I learned about Canada’s cities and provinces.

What I didn’t expect is that I also learned a few things about my hometown, London Ontario.

London is a mid-sized Canadian city, home to 381,000 people and the urban hub (or, as we sometimes say, ‘the heart’) of Southwestern Ontario. London has many assets: leading healthcare and educational institutions; strong and mostly stable public, private and nonprofit sectors; a robust network of services and amenities; a revitalizing downtown; interesting and increasingly diverse neighbourhoods; natural assets like a beautiful river and excellent park system; and by many measures, an engaged, caring and connected community. The people are great and there is always something to do. Believe me, I could go on. London is known as a place with an affordable cost of living and a high quality of life – an excellent combination.

Like every Canadian city, London is not without its struggles. We face complex issues like poverty, homelessness, addiction, and unemployment. We have a growing infrastructure gap and a very real need for investment in key amenities like public transit. Once home to many corporate head offices, we have struggled to hold our place as economic activity and growth concentrates in larger urban centres.

However, it’s my personal opinion that London’s greatest plight is that we suffer an acute case of Grass Is Always Greener Syndrome. The sense that things are better elsewhere is an enduring narrative within the city. You can find it woven through decades of media stories. You feel it in the discourse on almost every major policy debate. You read it in blogs and hear it in coffee shops. I’m not saying this view is pervasive, but the undercurrent is there, running stronger every now and then.

Even more troubling, this narrative seems to get a lot of traction. The voices of the community’s biggest critics are often most amplified, fueling a sense of insufficiency and normalizing negativity. They preach a gospel of rosy half-truths about other cities, often without much understanding or recognition of the challenges facing those places. It can blind us to what is good about the place where we live by wrapping us up in the illusion of somewhere else. Grass Is Always Greener Syndrome is about setting up comparisons where the other always comes out on top. It fuels a self-confidence problem, and over time can erode a city’s sense of its own worth.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t have a keen interest in learning from other cities. We can, we do, and we should. But it means that when we say we want to be like other places, we need to really know what we are talking about. We can’t cherry pick the good things about other cities that we want without recognizing the things those places also have that we don’t want. And we should appreciate that most city-to-city comparisons are shallow. They reduce a city to a single variable (or small list of variables) to make it easier to neatly line cities up from best to worst. This data can be helpful, but there isn’t a variable in the world that should be considered a proxy for a city’s worth.

There is a lot of literature on what makes cities successful, and perhaps more importantly, how we conceive of ‘city success’ in the first place. Is it traditional measures like economic performance and growth? Or is it about social inclusion or justice? Or sustainability, resilience, innovation? Or perhaps a combination of things? Of course, the answer depends on the values of the person you ask – and it’s perfectly acceptable that there isn’t a single universal answer. If someone tells you there is a simple recipe for building a great city, that person doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Over the course of this trip, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of the diversity of Canada’s cities. I’ve started to think of cities less as competitors and more like members of a team, each playing its own role based on unique strengths and weaknesses. The success of one isn’t at the expense of the others. We face similar struggles, and local problems are now national issues. Our best hope of addressing them is by learning from each other, tackling them together, and understanding that cities are like little laboratories where success and failure is a normal and productive part of urban evolution. What a shame it would be if all of our cities tried to become exactly like each other. We’d lose the very thing that makes our team so strong – our diversity.

If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you’ll know I’m prone to being swept off my feet by the charms of cities. I’ve found myself in awe of many things in other places, things I want for London – Charlottetown’s charming waterfront, Vancouver’s spectacular skyline, Halifax’s unique urban spaces, Calgary’s investment in transit and public art, Saint John’s careful preservation of heritage, Montreal’s exceptional public amenities, Toronto’s fierce sense of pride, and on it goes. But has appreciating these things made me less proud to live in London? Not even for a minute.

I’ve had hundreds of conversations over the past two months with people from cities across Canada, most of which begin with the usual introductions when I share that I live in London. I’ve been surprised at how often people would mention specific things about London which are Greener Grass to them. Public officials in Charlottetown told me they are studying Budweiser Gardens as a leading example of catalyzing downtown revitalization. An interviewee in Calgary rhymed off an impressive list of innovations she was aware of happening at Western. Most people could name at least one thing – a company or product, sometimes a restaurant or amenity, or a fond memory from a visit to the city – that had impressed them about London.

I couldn’t help but think, I wish every Londoner was hearing this.

It’s said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and this has been the case for me. Being away for most of the last two months has made me even more proud of the place where I live. I am often teased for having a Leslie-Knope-like love of London, and I’m fine with that. I enjoy an excellent quality of life, and have London to thank for much of it. I like living in a place that is big enough to have everything I need, but small enough where it’s possible to make a difference. I like being close to other cities, but not so close that our distinctness will be lost over time. And I really like the people. I know more smart, engaged, talented, funny, creative and kind Londoners than I can count.

My hope for London is that we become a more confident, proud and ambitious city (and I think there’s a relationship between these three traits). We have every right and reason to be. The Grass Isn’t Greener. Yes, sometimes it’s different, and that’s a good thing. The best cure for Grass Is Always Greener Syndrome is to pour our energy into making our lawn look good, learning from our neighbours but not letting anything – anything – erode our sense of pride in what have.

London is a great Canadian city. Let’s set our sights higher, believe in ourselves, and embrace all that is good about the beautiful city we choose to call home.






Vancouver, British Columbia


“We need to acknowledge the tragedy in Orlando, which has certainly impacted our city and cities around the world. […] Many sentiments have been expressed by our community. The word ‘love’ has been the dominant word, and it is what will prevail.”

Somber expressions filled Council Chambers as Vancouver’s City Council meeting was called to order. Councillors, staff and citizens alike nodded their heads as the Mayor spoke of love prevailing over tragedy.

In the days since the horrific mass murder at a nightclub in Orlando, mayors from around the world have spoken out on behalf of their cities with messages of sympathy, solidarity, and support. Mayors (and other leaders) have attended vigils, recognized the victims during official functions, called on their communities to donate funds, and reinforced the importance of local Pride events in the continued battle against hate and intolerance.

Why do mayors do this? The shooting didn’t happen in their communities. They have little ability and no authority to do anything to help the situation. Are they just scoring cheap political points, or do these expressions actually matter?

I believe they do. I think they matter a lot, actually.

Mayors are uniquely positioned to speak for cities. In good times and bad, mayors become the voice of the community they represent. Some describe mayors as ‘living symbols of their cities’, selected because they represent a collective aspiration of the city for its future. In the words of one author, mayors are “a symbolic centre that can try to give meaning to notions of community.” (Garrand, 2007)

The message that “love will prevail”, spoken by the Mayor of Vancouver, is not just a message for the people of Vancouver. It’s a message about Vancouver. It sets a tone. It gives hope. It translates a tragic act that is hard to understand into an affirmation of Vancouver as a city that believes in tolerance, acceptance and love.

Vancouver is unquestionably one of Canada’s urban success stories. With a spectacular skyline cradled between majestic mountains and the rugged pacific coast, the city really is a sight to behold. Vancouver is widely viewed to be one of the most livable cities in the world, and a leading example on many dimensions of sustainability. The city is diverse, vibrant, and has that laid back vibe you can only find on the coasts.

In my tour of ten Canadian cities, this was one of the only places where I never took public transit – not because Vancouver doesn’t have a great public transit system (it does), but because I didn’t need to. The city is compact and highly pedestrian oriented. I arrived on a seaplane from Victoria right into Vancouver’s downtown harbour. I left by walking to the train station. Everything I needed in between was easily accessed by foot, and I was in good company. There were times when even the very wide and well designed sidewalks started to feel like a traffic jam.

Vancouver is also a particularly interesting city for my purposes, because the role of the mayor is very different than in other Canadian cities. First off, Vancouver has local political parties. Montreal also has parties, but they are often leader-centric and less ideologically based, and tend to come and go with election cycles. Vancouver’s parties, by contrast, are more enduring institutions which typically run slates of candidates not just for city council but also for the school board and the elected parks board. Vision Vancouver is the party which currently has a majority on city council, including the mayor and 6 of 10 councillors. Although the Vision caucus has been criticized for meeting in private, the ability to organize positions through a party caucus was recognized by many interviewees as an efficient part of the decision making process. The duties of Vancouver city councillors are also unique, as all members are elected at large so the distribution of duties is based around policy areas rather than geography (similar to a cabinet).

In addition to the power that comes from leading a majority party, the role of the mayor also has more formal authority in Vancouver than most other Canadian cities. Vancouver has its own charter, which provides the mayor with the responsibility to “oversee and inspect the conduct of all employees” and the power to “suspect from his employment, if he thinks necessary, any such employee.” Council has the ability to reinstate the employee, but in a situation where the mayor governs a majority on council, this would seem an unlikely prospect.

As this project has (hopefully!) demonstrated, the role of the mayor varies considerably across Canada’s cities. The legal authority, institutional arrangements, and position of the city – not to mention ‘soft power’ features – all have an important influence on the nature of the role of the mayor. One outcome of this project will be a detailed ‘job description’ of sorts for urban mayors in Canada, detailing of the many factors which shape it and how they vary by city. This baseline understanding of the role then enables a more complicated (and interesting!) exploration into what mayoral leadership looks like in practice, and what role mayors play – individually and collectively – in leading Canada’s cities. Lots more to come!

In the meantime, I’m thankful for my time in Vancouver, the last stop on what has been a truly epic learning (and life) experience for me. I am indebted to the people in every city visited for making time to share their insights – and in many cases, their love for their communities. I’ve learned a lot about mayors, about local leadership, about cities, and ultimately about Canada. I’m coming away from this experience with a heightened sense of how important cities are to the lives of Canadians, and the success of our country.

As we struggle through the sad wake of tragedy, I am encouraged to see Canada’s cities defining themselves as places that are inclusive, safe, and welcoming. I’m glad our mayors are speaking up.

It gives me hope that love will indeed prevail.



The Pride flag at Vancouver City Hall.



The Mayor speaks in Vancouver Council Chambers.



Who wouldn’t walk to work if the walk looked like this?



Doing some reading in a rooftop hot tub. Vancouver has this quality of life thing figured out!



I started this leg of the trip in Victoria to visit family, and travelled to Vancouver via sea plane – a highly recommended way to travel!!



I seem to get the most comments on my food pics, so I’ll keep them coming (mostly so you’ll keep coming and reading about mayors!). This was actually from Victoria but trust me, I was still thinking about it in Vancouver. Delish!



This journey started in the most eastern part of Canada, on the Atlantic Ocean. After nearly two months of wandering west, it’s finally reached the Pacific Ocean. We live in an extraordinary country, from coast to beautiful coast.


Calgary, Alberta


Calgary has some serious swagger.

It’s more than the stereotypical cowboy-conquering- the-wild-west image that comes to mind. And it runs deeper than being a city that is young, hip, wealthy, entrepreneurial and diverse. To me, swagger is all about confidence. And Calgary has it in spades.

You can see it everywhere. It’s the pride taken to maintain perfectly manicured parks. It’s the stories the city tells about itself through public art. It’s the extra investment in design features in everything from street lights to fountains to park benches. It’s building a public library over 150 metres of LRT line because — well, because you can. It’s meeting the challenge of cold winters head on, by building the most extensive pedestrian skywalk system (the ‘Plus 15s’) in the world. Together, these things communicate a clear message: we’re Calgary, and we’re worth it.

Calgary home to 1.2 million people and is the largest of the 354 municipalities in Alberta. The second largest is the Edmonton, Alberta’s capital. Approximately 75% of the province’s population lives in the Edmonton-Calgary corridor, making it one of Canada’s most urbanized regions.

Calgary is the 3rd largest city in the country (and the third largest in this study). For my purposes, the most distinctive feature of Calgary’s local political system is its beautiful simplicity. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, has a political structure which includes a 45-member council, 4 deputy mayors, 4 community councils, an executive committee, and 11 other committees reporting to council. Canada’s second largest city, Montreal, wins the prize for most complicated structure with at least three levels of local government, a 65-member city council (and more than 100 locally elected officials, when the boroughs are included), and additional institutions such as political parties and a powerful cabinet-like executive.

In contrast, Calgary’s political structure is simple. Council is comprised of one mayor and 14 councillors. There are four standing committees. The deputy mayor role rotates on a monthly basis. That’s it.

Now, that’s not to say that Calgary’s politics are simple – far from it. The City of Calgary manages a $4 billion annual budget and a municipal workforce of more than 15 thousand. The plunge in oil prices has put the city and province into a serious recession, with all of the challenges that comes with it. I attended a committee meeting while in Calgary. It was a déjà vu moment for me, listening as council grappled with options to make cuts in their budget while continuing to invest in and support a struggling community. I’ve seen a version of this movie before. It was called Southwestern Ontario 2008-2011.

There are two major processes worth paying attention to with respect to local government in Alberta. The first is the ongoing review of the Municipal Government Act. Initiated in 2012, this extensive review is nearing completion and envisions several important governance, funding and regulatory changes. The review website provides an excellent overview of the changes being contemplated, all of which are subject to a final round of community consultation this summer.

The second important process is the development of charters for Calgary and Edmonton. In June 2012, the City of Calgary, City of Edmonton and Province of Alberta entered into an agreement to explore new legislative framework in recognition of the special position, capacity and responsibility of the province’s two largest cities. The new charters are expected to be in effect before the next municipal election in 2017. During my interviews, I heard repeated mention of how important and positive a charter will be for Calgary, although academics are far less optimistic.

Interestingly, neither the Municipal Government Act review or the city charter documents available to date pay much attention to the role of the mayor. Alberta’s legislation describes the mayor as the “chief elected official” (see what they did there – it’s still CEO but without the executive bit). It is on the low end among municipal legislation in Canada in the degree to which the role of the mayor is differentiated from that of a councillor. Calgary’s procedure bylaw provides little additional power to the mayor other than things like serving on committees, calling special meetings and approving the use of council chambers.

And yet it would be hard to say that the role of the mayor in Calgary is one with little power. In a survey of more than 12,000 Canadians, perceptions of mayoral power in Calgary were among the highest in Canada – likely a reflection of the prolific popularity of the incumbent, who has more Twitter followers than any premier and is likely Canada’s most well known mayor.

The Calgary case raises interesting questions about how we conceive of the role and power of mayors. In a city where the formal power of the mayor is among the lowest in the country, but where the incumbent is perceived to be one of the most powerful power, it raises the big questions. Where does power come from? What kinds of power are we talking about? How is mayoral power used, measured, and understood? These are core questions of this study. I’ve already argued that the term ‘weak mayor’ doesn’t fit Canada’s context. It refers to the formal or legal power of the mayor, as prescribed in provincial legislation, which in my view is only one piece of the puzzle. Mayoral power is a lot more complicated (spoiler alert: lots more to come on this!).

I like Calgary for its interesting mayoral politics, and I love it for its swagger. There’s a lot to learn here.



View from above of Calgary’s LRT. Very easy to use.



Entrance to Calgary’s council chambers.



Meeting underway.



An example of the Plus 15 skywalk system.



Public art is EVERYWHERE. <3



Okay Calgary, I get it. Now you’re just showing off.


Saskatoon, Saskatchewan


“What? We have a bus that goes to the airport?”

My Airbnb host stared at me with a look of disbelief on her face. She was giving me a tour of the building in downtown Saskatoon where I had rented a condo. When she went to show me the parking garage, I said I didn’t need to see it as I didn’t have a car with me and had taken the bus in from the airport.

“Are you sure?”

I smiled. “Yes, you definitely have a bus that goes to the airport. I just took it. It was great, actually.”

“And you were by yourself? With your luggage and everything?”


“Weren’t you afraid?”

I had to think about that one. “No. Should I have been?”

“I don’t know. I just thought — well, I’ve never been on a bus in Saskatoon. I don’t think I know anyone who takes the bus. It’s just not what we do here.”

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is a city in the midst of figuring out what it wants to be when it grows up. You can sense the identity crisis undercurrent a mile away (and since it’s the prairies, you can probably see it a mile away, too). The city has all the charms of a small prairie town: a quaint downtown, streets dotted with historic architecture and mom-and-pop style retailers, friendly people. I sat on a patio for a few hours one afternoon and couldn’t believe the number of people who stopped to talk after bumping into each other, the hallmark of a community where everyone knows everyone. But Saskatoon also is showing signs of being a big city: towering corporate head offices, a mix of eclectic neighborhoods, a visible struggle with poverty, mental health and homelessness. With more than 250,000 people, Saskatoon is the largest city in Saskatchewan and one of Canada’s fastest growing communities, while still being a decidedly small to medium sized city by Canadian standards. In the same day, I had an interviewee describe Saskatoon to me as “Paris on the Prairies” and another interviewee referenced it as “Alabama of the North.” Two very different images!

Saskatoon is divided in half by the South Saskatchewan River, and has a ring road which circles the central part of the city. This road, Circle Drive, was described to me the chief cleavage dividing Saskatoon’s local politics. ‘Inside Circle Drive’ represents the urban core, with a population tending to favour progressive forms of urban development and related amenities like improved public transit, bike lanes and mixed use neighborhoods. This part of the city is more acutely affected by and aware of issues of violence and poverty. ‘Outside Circle Drive’ refers to the suburbs surrounding the ring road, with a population interested in a different suite of local priorities such as keeping taxes low and building roads and bridges. Both agendas are important for the city, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive – but it sounds like this is the dividing line. Of course, this may be an oversimplification, but I heard this same general impression of the local political landscape from a few people.

Saskatoon residents will head to the polls in October to elect a new council, which includes a mayor and ten ward-based councillors. Already it’s shaping up to be an interesting race. The incumbent mayor, Don Atchison, is seeking re-election. He was first elected as mayor in 2003, which makes him the longest serving mayor in the city’s history (and one of the longest serving in any major Canadian city). Atchison is a skilled politician, and it seems he and his colleagues have been doing a good job as the city has weathered a difficult economic period very well. Atchison is being challenged by at least one viable candidate, Charlie Clark, an engaging younger downtown councillor (and definitely an Inside Circle Drive type). With four months to the election, other candidates may come forward as well. This election is definitely worth paying attention to, as it provides a vehicle for the city to explore and express a vision for its future. For local politics observers, it doesn’t get better than a hot mayoral race in a city struggling with an identity crisis as a way to gain insights about local political culture (check out this helpful tracker if you’re interested).

A few other noteworthy learnings from this stop on the journey:

1. Saskatchewan has a lot of municipalities. And I mean a LOT, as there are nearly 800 incorporated municipalities in the province – second only to Quebec. 459 municipalities are classified as being ‘urban’ which includes 16 towns, 247 villages and 40 resort villages. The two ‘big’ cities are Saskatoon, with the largest population, and Regina, the capital. Together these two cities are home to nearly half of the provincial population.

2. Under the provincial Cities Act, the role of the mayor in Saskatoon is on the very low end in terms of formal power compared to other cities in Canada. The legislation identifies only procedural duties (chairing meeting, deciding on points of privilege, enforcing procedural rules) in describing the role of the mayor. There is no mention of the mayor as ‘chief executive officer’ or other similar language, and the mayor is not afforded any of the extra powers granted in some provinces.

3. Saskatchewan municipalities, as a result of a successful lobbying effort, receive one percentage point of the sales tax from the province. This is something that has been lobbied for in many other provinces, with little success. For 2016/2017, the allocation works out to $218 per capita in additional funding to the municipality.

Saskatoon is an interesting case because it captures the struggles of mid sized cities in Canada: defining their place in our country while striving to find local consensus on a vision for the future. Saskatoon is certainly not alone. The upcoming mayoral race affords a unique and fascinating opportunity for a community to grapple with these big questions. Saskatoon, we will be watching!




Listening to music and writing postcards at a bus stop. Happy to report: no immediate signs of danger!



Saskatoon City Hall.



A map of the city from more than 100 years ago, showing the beginnings of Circle Road.



I was blown away by Saskatoon’s river front paths – absolutely beautiful, and dotted with many interesting design features like fountains and gardens.



An example of Saskatoon’s architectural heritage: one of the original CN hotels build along the railway (although now owned by Delta). Photo doesn’t even come close to doing this building justice.



Saskatchewan gets more tornados that any other Canadian province. First time I’ve seen a bathroom double as a tornado shelter!



A Saskatoon sunrise, wtih beautiful skies as far as the eye can see. It’s impossible to not feel swept away by the beauty of this city and province. It’s a special part of our country. I will be back.


Winnipeg, Manitoba


“This is where east meets west. We’re the heart of Canada.”

It was Saturday night, on a rooftop patio in downtown Winnipeg – a perfect opportunity for learning about the city through the tried-and-true research method of going to bars and talking to locals.

This man had lived in Winnipeg for all of his life. He had a solid working knowledge of the city’s downtown, and his face lit up as he told me stories about the buildings that surrounded us. The punchline seemed to be that the city’s development reflected a fusion of cultures – the ‘east meets west’ idea – as a place defined by being in the midde. And although there is some dispute about where the exact geographic centre of Canada actually is, Winnipeg is without question the Canadian city that comes closest. It’s our middleman.

Interestingly, being the middle of Canada seems to be about more than geography. It’s also about being average. Winnipeg, and Manitoba, are strikingly close to the Canadian average in many respects. A recent book describes Manitoba as “Canada’s most middling province – a label that serves more as an identity than a criticism” and argues that “these centrist tendencies constitute a unique, enduring, albeit quintessentially moderate, Canadian political culture.”

So maybe the guy in the bar really did know what he was talking about.

Manitoba is Canada’s 5th largest province (right in the middle, go figure) with approximately 1.3 million people. What is unique, however, is the position of its capital city. Winnipeg is home to nearly 720,000 people, making it the only city in Canada with more than half of its province’s population. The next largest city in Manitoba is Brandon, which isn’t even close at just around 50,000 people. Winnipeg generates almost all of the province’s population and economic growth. Combined, these factors mean that Winnipeg occupies arguably a greater position within its province than any other Canadian city.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Winnipeg also has unusually strong model of local political leadership.

In the 1970s, 12 municipalities amalgamated with their metropolitan government, creating the ‘unicity’ of Winnipeg and making it The Big City in the province it is today. Winnipeg has its own municipal legislation and is a rare example of a Canadian city with what could be described as ‘strong mayor‘ features.

Under the Winnipeg Charter, the mayor is the “head of council and chief officer of the city.” The mayor has unilateral authority to appoint a deputy mayor, acting deputy mayor, all committee chairs, and – perhaps most importantly – the members of the Executive Policy Committee (EPC). The EPC is a powerful part of Winnipeg’s political structure, and seems to work kind of like a cabinet. EPC prepares the budget and make recommendations to council on a variety of major city-wide issues (see page 3 of the Organizational By-Law). All standing committees report to council through the EPC, and there are matters in which EPC is the final authority. There are also what is known as ‘IEPC’ meetings, or ‘Internal EPC’, which are closed informal meetings of EPC members with senior administration. IEPC meetings were described to me as “the worst kept secret at City Hall” as everyone knows they happen and they are viewed as a needed forum for informal dialogue outside of the political arena. This in an unusual institution in a local government, but not unlike what exists in federal and provincial political processes.

The mayor is the locus of power within EPC (and IEPC). Under the Charter, Winnipeg’s mayor has unilateral ability to appoint people to EPC and terminate their appointments at any point in time. This, combined with the $23,000 pay increase provided to EPC members, means that in practice members of EPC tend to support the mayor’s agenda (or in the words of one interviewee, “although there’s nothing saying they can’t disagree with the mayor, it’s well understood that the will of the mayor is best to be respected”).

This arrangement makes the role of the mayor in Winnipeg quite different from in other Canadian cities, on the high end in terms of formal power. As we know, Montreal’s mayor is also on the high end, but under quite different conditions. The ability to appoint a cabinet of sorts makes the role look more like that of a premier – and maybe even more powerful. With a much smaller elected group, the mayor can extend appointments to a much larger percentage of elected colleagues than can a premier, which in practice is like leading a permanent majority government and without a formally organized opposition. Not a bad gig.

Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean that Winnipeg mayors rule like dictators. As with all other mayors in Canada, they are subject to the control of council and there are examples in the past where this control has been exercised. But, it is rare.

Interestingly, I’ve heard nothing but support for this model during my interviews so far. People described it using words like “efficient” and “organized.” The current mayor has raised the idea of allowing all of council to make appointments, a suggestion met with strong warnings from political scientists.

Winnipeg mayors have decidedly more formal authority than their counterparts in other Canadian cities. There may be a governance argument on why this is a good thing – but I’m not yet convinced that any one model is uniformly better than any other. More mayoral power certainly hasn’t made Winnipeg immune to many of the big issues faced by other cities. So I think it’s a more complex consideration. But, I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. I’ll finish the research process before landing on conclusions. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed all that Winnipeg has to offer. I was fortunate to attend the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference while in the city. This conference is the only event each year providing an opportunity to connect with more than a thousand municipal leaders from across Canada, hear from the Prime Minister and leaders from other major political parties on local issues, and formally establish national scale positions on municipal issues (plus: it’s also a ton of fun). As a host city Winnipeg did not disappoint, providing extraordinary experiences including a visit to the spectacular new Canadian Museum for Human Rights and a unique closing gala showcasing many dimensions of Winnipeg’s local culture.

It’s been a treat to be in the centre of Canada, as my journey transitions from east to west. For people interested in mayors and local leadership in Canada, it’s a critical case to examine as an unusual model in a place noted for being so usual and quintessentially Canadian.




The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the masterpiece of architect Antoine Predock. In his words, “The journey through the museum parallels an epic journey through life.” This overarching idea is evident in every design choice and translates into an extraordinary visitor experience, beginning with a “a descent into the earth, a symbolic recognition of the earth as the spiritual center for many indigenous cultures […] and of ancient gatherings at the Forks of First Nations peoples, and later, settlers and immigrants” and culminates in a tower built to showcase “life affirming hope for positive changes in humanity.”



Illuminated alabaster ramps, just one example of the stunning and meaningful design choices in the Museum.



One more internal shot from the Museum.



Winnipeg gets big points in the category of friendly and welcoming people. We enjoyed a glimpse of the impressive Pride parade during the conference. What’s nicer than being given a flower from a stranger?



Winnipeg loses a few points (in my books, anyway) for having a totally not pedestrian-friendly main intersection at Portage and Main. This is a map telling me how to literally cross the street from my hotel to a bus stop, which includes several flights of stairs and an underground roundabout. Not my favourite.



FCM President (now Past President) Raymond Louie thanks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after his address at the FCM Conference. “We’re all in this together, building a great country.”



A downtown view from inside the Winnipeg Convention Centre.



Surprise fireworks surrounded the Convention Centre at the end of the FCM Gala. It was a powerful moment to feel very much in the middle of it all. Well played Winnipeg, well played.