Developers, Citizens, and Local Government

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Andrew Sancton (reference below) notes that because all municipal councils set policy for local land use and infrastructure “the people with the greatest financial stakes in local politics are the people who make their living from building.”

Sancton notes (p. 144) that:

“Although there is a common perception that builders and developers usually get their way in municipal politics, it is equally true that for many projects they often meet serious challenges from environmentalists, neighborhood activists, or people who simply say “Not In My Back Yard.” At its core, Canadian municipal politics often seems little more than a constant battle between these two sides, sometimes with developers in the ascendancy (usually when people are worried about employment and economic growth) and sometimes with citizens groups apparently able to veto almost any project that is physically near to mobilized residents.

“Because municipalities are the level of government physically closest to most citizens, it is often assumed that citizens identify more with the local level than with the provincial and federal. There is considerable evidence, however, that this is not the case, with statistics for voter turnout being the most obvious example (Treisman 2007). The harsh reality is that Canadian nonpartisan municipal government is often difficult to understand, technical in its functional scope, and generally not covered well by the media. It often seems especially distant from those who do not own their own homes: the young, the poor, the transient.

“… Instead, municipal politics is characterized by large-scale eruptions of citizen involvement over particular issues. These were especially important and especially well documented during the late 1960s and ’70s, when citizens’ groups successfully challenged the then-orthodox view that decisions about municipal development were best made by the “professionals,” especially engineers, land-use planners, and social workers. … The combination of nonpartisan politics and generally low voter interest means that highly motivated groups of mobilized citizens have considerable power to influence municipal councils. Isolated individuals might not be able “to fight city hall,” but groups of angry voters can.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Municipal Governance (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Andrew Sancton (2010), Local Government, in The Oxford Handbook of Canadian Politics, eds. John C. Courtney and David E. Smith, pp. 132-151. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 29 September 2016.