About the Project

In every Canadian city, the mayor is an important figure. Mayors occupy the highest local political post, lead elected councils, serve as chief executives of municipal corporations, and are generally the most well known local official. In times of celebration and crisis, the mayor is the voice of their city. Mayors are praised for the successes and blamed for the failures of their cities. In many ways, mayors become living symbols of Canada’s cities.

Despite the significance of the position, remarkably little is known about the role of the Canadian mayor. There is no ‘job description’ for Canadian mayors; in fact, there are more than 50 pieces of provincial legislation in Canada prescribing duties of mayors, not including municipal bylaws. It is often said that Canada has a ‘weak mayor’ system and yet the public believes that mayors are powerful. Even people who work most closely with mayors hold conflicting, and often unrealistic, expectations. A surprisingly small volume of literature exists on the topic. To date, there has not been a comprehensive study of mayors in Canada, or an exploration of the diversity in the role across Canadian cities.

This research project addresses this important gap by engaging in the first broad study of mayors in Canada. The role of the mayor varies considerably across cities. Depending on the city, mayors in Canada have different powers, varied resources, and unique levers with which to influence the fortunes of their communities.

The Mayors Project investigates the role  and power of Canada’s urban mayors. It examines how and why the role varies across Canada’s cities, and what it means for the success of our cities.

Importantly, this project does not evaluate the people who are mayors, but rather it focuses on the role of the mayor. It examines mayors in their political, executive and community leadership role through the study of mayors in 10 Canadian cities, the largest in each province. The study draws on extensive literature and legislative reviews, an institutional analysis, a survey of 13,000 Canadians, and elite interviews with mayors and the people who work most closely with them in each city.

At its core, The Mayors Project is about building a uniquely Canadian understanding of the role of the mayor, and seeking new insights into the nature of political leadership in Canada’s cities.

This project examines the role of the mayor in 10 Canadian cities, the largest in each province:

  • Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Calgary, Alberta
  • Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Montreal, Quebec
  • Saint John, New Brunswick
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
  • St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador


Why were these cities selected?

Case selection is a critical, and often challenging, aspect of any research project. The approach of focusing on the largest city in each province was selected for a few reasons. First, in order to produce a Canada-wide study, it is critical to examine cities in all provinces, particularly as the formal authorities of mayors are primarily assigned through provincial legislation and because municipalities in Canada are creatures of the provinces in which they reside. Second, the sample includes some diversity of city size and scale. The sample represents approximately 20% of the Canadian population, and includes some of the largest cities in Canada with more than a million residents (Toronto, Montreal, Calgary), as well as smaller cities with fewer than one hundred thousand residents (Charlottetown and Saint John). Third, the sample includes five capital cities and five non-capital cities, allowing for an interesting comparison of how this may or may not influence the role of the mayor. Finally, this approach follows an established precedent for case selection in national studies of local government in Canada (such as Martin Horak and Robert Young’s (eds) Sites of Governance: Multilevel Governance and Policy Making in Canada’s Big Cities, 2012).

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