Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Regional Science

Municipal Reorganisation in Quebec

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Regional Science

Municipal Reorganisation in Quebec

Article excerpt

This study is based on the assumption that municipal government has a certain autonomy and can influence decisions even at an upper level of government. Local political institutions have an existence of their own even though they are formally creatures of the provincial authorities. They are part of institutional arrangements by which the political system as a whole is held together and functions. Actors within these institutions may develop and stand for local interests that come to be challenged by municipal restructuring.

Territorial restructuring, as featured by mergers or amalgamation of municipalities, represent a critical challenge to local autonomy and identity, and may be perceived as an earthquake by local officials and populations. For some policy makers and some experts, however, restructuring may respond to other objectives such as managing metropolitan areas, ensuring equity in taxation and in the level of services, reinforcing local institutions in order to increase responsibilities and attain downsizing goals at the provincial level (Tindal and Nobes Tindal 2000; Sancton 1991; Bourne 1991).

Decisions to reorganise municipal structures represent major issues for a variety of social and political actors and are of special interest to provincial and local decision makers. High expectations are placed upon the provincial authorities who have the responsibility for municipal institutions. Some provincial authorities may want to impose their own policy agenda; others simply react to interest groups. The question of municipal restructuring can be approached as a process of agenda setting in Quebec where projects for change have been proposed for decades without results comparable to those in other provinces. What is so particular about institutional arrangements at the municipal level in Quebec?

This study considers municipal reorganisation projects which started in the early 1990s and are still under discussion. It is a case study of a policy that is still to be completely adopted, within the context of ongoing debates about the pros and cons of municipal reform. This situation is relevant for a study of what Kingdon calls "streams" affecting public policy making. Three types of streams or windows which create opportunities or openings for action are identified as determinants of the policy making process (Kingdon 1995). The problem stream refers to all activities related to the identification and the diagnosis of a problematic situation. Perceptions of the nature of a problem and even problem recognition are at issue in the initial stages of policy making. Secondly, the political stream carries conditions related to politics, relations of power and partisanship, what Kingdon defines as the narrow sense of the political (1995). Hence, the political mood of key actors towards a given policy proposal creates conditions that may either block or propel policy depending on whether the mood is negative or positive. Third, the policy stream refers to the policy priorities that are imposed by the limited time and resources that can be devoted to any given policy. Policies struggle for a place on the decision agenda where opportunities move ahead of the others. Kingdon points out that these streams may develop separately or may converge and facilitate the adoption of a given policy.

This model seems appropriate for the analysis of municipal reform. In fact, this field has raised considerable discussion in the past in terms of the recognition of the problems to be solved by reform (the problem stream). Moreover, the provincial and the municipal mood has settled the conditions for political mobilisation and debates over the issues of municipal restructuring (political stream). Finally, the policy stream is of utmost relevancy in the context of strong pressure for reform in competing fields such as the health and education programs.

Our hypothesis is that the cumulative effects of the three streams may explain the slow pace of structural changes in the municipal system in Quebec. …

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