Aug. 7, 2019

Researchers survey hundreds of mayors and councillors on municipal democracy and public policy

The Canadian Municipal Barometer, funded by SSHRC, will provide new insights

From land use planning to public transit and economic development, municipal leaders across the country make decisions every day that have an enormous effect on the lives of Canadians and govern $500 billion of public assets. Yet we have a very limited understanding of how municipal decision-making is working, and information about how the decisions shape our communities is rarely shared across municipalities.

A  SSHRC Partnership Development Grant is funding the Canadian Municipal Barometer, a three-year survey of leaders in hundreds of communities across the country that will generate high-quality, comparable data on municipal democracy and public policy.

“When you study Canadian municipalities you realize how much responsibility municipal mayors and councillors have for policy areas that affect the daily lives of Canadians all across the country,” says Dr. Jack Lucas, PhD, the project director and associate professor in the Department of Political Science in the Faculty of Arts.

“It’s really hard to know much about how those policies are going in various municipalities, about what's working well and what the challenges are, because there are thousands of municipalities across Canada,” says Lucas. “We end up with a lot of high-quality single-case studies or a small handful of municipalities being studied in a particular research project. And we've learned a lot from those, but the political science community in Canada that’s focused on municipal politics had grown to the point where we have the capacity to do a new type of big-picture, systematic research.”

Lucas will work with researchers from five universities, an international advisory committee, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Samara Centre for Democracy. Early next year, surveys will be sent to mayors and councillors across the country and the researchers will subsequently publish reports and analyses including a municipal policy report, a municipal democracy checkup and customized reports for participating municipalities.

“We're in a really exciting moment in the study of municipal politics in Canada because there are political scientists across the country doing big, ambitious team-based data collection efforts,” says Lucas. “We’re trying to make the data available in a way that's understandable to a variety of audiences. And we hope that people get excited about that so they will make use of the data for their own purposes as well.”

Jack Lucas municipal research

Jack Lucas is the project director of the Canadian Municipal Barometer.

Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

“The Canadian Municipal Barometer is an example of the highly collaborative and community-engaged research we are proud to lead at the University of Calgary,” says Dr. André Buret, interim vice-president (research). “The projects funded by SSHRC Partnership Development Grants will lead to valuable insights about our communities, and help Canadians to make informed decisions about their future. We are grateful for this support.”

Two other UCalgary researchers are involved in research projects funded by SSHRC Partnership Development Grants. Dr. Maribeth Murray, PhD, professor, Department of Anthropology and Archeology, and director of the Arctic Institute of North America (AINA), is a co-applicant on Coastal Routes: Linking Community Innovation for Sustainability and Food Security During Times of Rapid Change. Dr. Marit Rosol, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Geography and Tier ll CRC, Global Urban Studies, is a collaborator on the project “\Four Stories About Food Sovereignty: Transnational Crises and Local Action.

The Canadian Municipal Barometer also receives support from the University of Calgary, University of Manitoba, University of Toronto, Institut Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, Memorial University, the Samara Centre for Democracy, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance.

The pressures of our rapidly growing global population are driving unprecedented changes in our social, political, cultural and natural systems. The University of Calgary's Human Dynamics in a Changing World research strategy is addressing our need to understand how we adapt to rapid change, to ensure our security and quality of life.