Preparing to Lead: Mayoral Transition Planning in Canadian Cities

By Spicer, Zachary; Graham, Kate | Canadian Public Administration, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Preparing to Lead: Mayoral Transition Planning in Canadian Cities


Spicer, Zachary, Graham, Kate, Canadian Public Administration


Introduction

The October 2014 municipal elections brought new leadership to many Ontario cities. Seven of the province's ten largest cities elected a new mayor, the highest number in three decades. (1) Within days of the election, three of these new mayors--John Tory of Toronto, Bonnie Crombie of Mississauga, and Linda Jeffrey of Brampton--announced they would be using "transition teams" to support their move into the mayor's office. Each new administration announced the names of those involved, but provided little information about their role, leaving the public with many questions about what transitions teams actually do in municipal politics. Why are these teams formed? How are members selected? How influential are these teams in establishing or executing a new mayor's agenda? How would they interface with municipal administration? These and other questions form the basis of this study: to explore the purpose, role, activities, structure and influence of mayoral transition teams (TTs).

Mayors are unlike any other political leaders in Canada. Most Canadian mayors operate in a non-partisan environment, and must campaign without the affiliations of a party system. They define their own policy positions and build their own relationships within and outside government. They do not control a Cabinet or have tools analogous to party discipline. Municipal governments differ from the Westminster parliamentary systems of the federal and provincial governments, with no presence of the Crown or constitutional recognition. Municipal authority flows from provincial governments, and varies by province and sometimes by municipality. Simply put, being a mayor is very different than being a premier or prime minister, operating in a system of government with fewer resources, more limited authority, and a unique relationship to the electorate.

Despite its uniqueness, remarkably little is known about the role of the mayor. The responsibilities of mayors "are generally quite unclear" (Sancton 1994). There is no "job description" for Canadian mayors. In fact, there are more than 50 pieces of provincial legislation--not including municipal bylaws--prescribing mayoral duties. Mayors have also not featured as a serious object of study in Canadian local government literature. The most comprehensive overview of Canadian mayors is one chapter in a book on political leadership in Canada (Sancton 1994). What little else has been written is found in textbook chapters (Lightbody 2006; Sancton 2011), and a small volume of work on specific mayors (Armstrong 1967; Caulfield 1974; Coulton 1980; Doolittle 2014; Levine 1989; McKenna and Purcell 1980; McCallion and Brehl 2014; Persky 1980; Phillips 1967; Tossell 2012; Urbaniak 2009). There are a handful of studies on specific aspects of Canadian mayoralty, including the electoral determinants of success (Siegel, Kushner, and Stanwick 2001), the process of recruiting mayoral candidates (Long and Slemko 1974), and assessment of mayoral races in specific municipal elections (Kushner, Siegel, and Stanwick 1997; Stanwick 2000). A recent article described the challenged conceptual framework and lack of theoretical foundation for studying mayors in Canada, highlighting the opportunity to build a Canadian literature "almost literally from scratch" (Urbaniak 2014). (2)

Given the uniqueness and often ambiguity of the mayor's role, we would argue that mayoral transitions are of particular significance. As cities are increasingly recognized as critical sites of innovation and economic growth, and shape the quality of life for a greater proportion of the Canadian population, we argue that their leadership too becomes more significant and therefore worthy of scholarly inquiry.

Leadership transition planning

Leadership transitions are a necessary, yet challenging component of government (Riddell and Haddon 2009). Savoie (1993) argues that early stages in power for a government are critical to its long-term success. …

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