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Local and Urban Politics

E04(a) - Local Deliberative Democracy I

Date: Jun 4 | Time: 12:00pm to 01:30pm | Location: SWING 205

Chair/Président/Présidente : Lorna Stefanick (Athabasca University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Kristin Good (Dalhousie University)

Playing the Part: An Assessment of Structural Limitations to Resident Participation in Toronto: Wesley Petite (Carleton University)
Abstract: The debate on whether residents can be contributors of local knowledge in the technical field of urban planning is active, albeit with mounting evidence to the contrary. Optimistic authors emphasize the importance of democratizing the planning of urban infrastructure through lay-expert dialogue, while also acknowledging the difficulty in democratizing technical practices (Callon et al, 2009; McFarlane, 2011). Paradoxically, Barry Cullingworth (1984) felt it appropriate to state that, in Toronto, “participation is part of planning”. Rather than a regression in the receptivity of urban planning practitioners, referred to collectively as the planning community (Chipman, 2002), since 1984 there has been a marked increase of policies and initiatives inviting the input of common residents. A recently concluded three-year participatory budgeting pilot project in Toronto is a useful case in which to explore what participation entails amidst the modern practices of a Canadian metropolis. Based on 36 interviews, including members of the planning community on the provincial and municipal level of government, this paper identifies widespread characterization of residents as holders of “irreplaceable knowledge”. However, as a critical turn in the study of resident participation has focused on since the mid-2000s (Nylen, 2011), this paper identifies structural elements of Canadian municipalities that situate residents and their elected representatives as dependent on the authoritative knowledge of departmental staff. This paper argues that this authoritative role is actually further extended by experiments in resident involvement and stands to undermine the principles underlying the call for increased participation as well as existing forms of representative democracy.

Bridging the Gap Between Electoral and Participatory Democracy: The Electoral Motivations Behind Participatory Budgeting: Laura Pin (York University)
Abstract: This paper explores the electoral dynamics of participatory budgeting projects, a theme that is surprisingly undertheorized in the literature, which tends to approach the practice as a non-partisan deliberative democratic initiative. Combining qualitative fieldwork in Chicago, IL., including interviews with aldermen and other key stakeholders, with electoral data, I make two arguments. First, the initiation and sustainability of participatory budgeting projects is intimately related to strategic, electoral imperatives. This helps explain the origination of most participatory budgeting projects in Chicago from the aldermanic offices, and the volatility of the few examples of community-initiated participatory budgeting. Second, participatory budgeting is more likely to be adopted by elected officials who identify as progressive, face strong electoral competition, and are non-incumbents. These aldermen use support for participatory budgeting enhance their democratic legitimacy and build their constituency networks. In contrast to research that foregrounds the importance of civil society in implementing participatory budgeting, this research helps explain the uneven emergence of participatory budgeting projects, suggesting that, in Chicago, elected officials act as gate-keepers, authorizing the use of participatory budgeting when they find it strategic to do so. More broadly, this research suggests that participatory democratic initiatives may emerge in municipal governance due to their synergies with elite interests, rather than any inherently democratic qualities of the local scale.

Democracy and Local Government: Assessing the reach of Open Government initiatives: Byron Sheldrick (University of Guelph), Anna Kopec (University of Toronto)
Abstract: This paper examines principles of Open Government and the extent to which they have been incorporated into local, municipal governments in the Canadian context. Open Government refers to a suite of initiatives around questions of Transparency, Accountability, enhanced public participation, the sharing of government information and open data. While almost all provinces have adopted open government frameworks, take up at the municipal level has been relatively less common. Moreover, municipalities are more likely to have implemented various types of data portals rather than the more participatory and accountability-oriented elements of open government. This paper utilizes a survey of municipal politicians and managers to examine attitudes towards open government and the extent to which open government principals have permeated local government. Based on the survey data, impediments to open government at the local level will be explored.