Ontario’s proposed land use planning changes

We’ve got a new blog post up at Smart Growth Waterloo Region about the provincial government’s proposed changes as part of its coordinated land use planning review.

The short version is that the province is proposing some changes that will help other communities do what Waterloo Region is already doing, but we’ve been left out of the Greenbelt once again. See the full post for details, and to find out how you can help make sure our local protections get the added strength at the provincial level that they need to keep them strong well into the future.

While I’m in Calgary for a conference next week, the province will be holding the first of their open houses on the proposed changes right here in Waterloo Region on May 31st. I hope you’ll head out to learn more. With the passion in this community, I know there will be lots of strong voices for the area represented at the open house while I’m away.

CPSA 2016 in Calgary

It’s that time of year again. Soon I’ll be heading to the Canadian Political Science Association’s 2016 conference in Calgary. The conference is running from May 31st to June 2nd, and as usual, CPSA is being held with the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

I’ll be presenting an overview of the first half of my dissertation, currently in progress, as part of the Local and Urban Politics section program. I’ll be focusing on the history of growth management and regional government in the Waterloo area, which is a big part of explaining Waterloo Region’s commitment to smart growth. If you’re attending the conference, I hope you’ll join us on Wednesday June 1st from 10:30 to 12:00 in Science Theatres 132: http://cpsaevents.ca/2016/2016sessions_details.php?id=10

I’m also participating in the CPSA’s second annual Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. PhD students explain their dissertation research to a non-specialist audience in three minutes, using one slide. I’m in the first heat on Tuesday, and the finalists will compete on Thursday in front of a panel of guest judges. So if you’ve got some time over the lunch break, stop by to hear me and/or some other junior scholars explain why what we do is cool.

As usual, you can follow along with the CPSA conference on Twitter at #cpsa2016, and with Congress at #congressh. I hope I’ll be seeing many of you in Calgary!

My review of Politics of Urbanism

Early this year, the Canadian Journal of Political Science published a book review I wrote back in 2013. The book is Warren Magnusson’s brilliant Politics of Urbanism: Seeing Like a City (2011).

I wrote this review very shortly before I completely changed dissertations and did my professional u-turn from political theory to local and urban politics. At the time I wrote the review, I didn’t know that I was about to make that change. I also didn’t know that it would take two and a half years for the review to appear after I submitted it.

Looking back now, I see this piece as an early but big part of the transition that I’ve made over the last few years. I would no doubt have written the review differently in 2016 than I did in 2013, from my more recent vantage point of urban and local politics scholar.

But I’m proud of this short review. It serves as an interesting a snapshot of my thinking at the time, but it also stands on its own as a highlight of what’s exciting about Magnusson’s work and what it might mean for political scientists from all sub-disciplines.

If you don’t have access to the Canadian Journal of Political Science, you can read the version I submitted (technically the “Author’s Original” version), which is pretty much the same, here. And you can get a sneak peek at Magnusson’s Politics of Urbanism on Google Books.

My Master’s research, finally published

It took seven years, but I’m thrilled to be able to say that the work resulting from my Master’s Research Project has been published. It appears in the Canadian open-access journal Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture, & Social Justice.

As the abstract explains,

Using two published accounts of teaching experience in Women’s Studies classrooms by way of illustration, I argue that seeing privilege through three lenses—as something one has, something one is, and something one does—can assist feminist educators in meeting diverse goals in their anti-oppression classrooms as they continue to grapple with the messy and often contradictory challenges of privilege.

While my work no longer focuses on feminist political theory, I’ve always been pleased that so much of the work I’ve done in that area deals with the theoretical aspects of practical challenges faced by educators. It’s my hope that this work will provide some assistance and support to teachers at all levels who are working to address issues of equity and power in their classrooms.

The article information is available here, and you can read the full PDF of the article for free here.

My sincere thanks to Dr. Eleanor MacDonald, who skillfully supervised the project during my time at Queen’s, and to my anonymous Atlantis reviewers for their insightful comments.

Questioning conventional wisdom on voter turnout

This is a holiday, you say. I should be relaxing with family, or cooking, or having a nap.

Not today. Today, I have been poking around on social media looking for gossip on the election. And I got to thinking about voter turnout.

We have a lot of moral panic about voter turnout. Turnout is dropping, we hear every year. People are increasingly disengaged, and those who lead our country are chosen by a smaller and smaller number of its people.

But, like any political scientists on a holiday, I got to thinking. So I looked up the historical data from Elections Canada, which comes in a handy chart.

If you map voter turnout based on this information, you get something that looks roughly like this:

voter turnout

That drop in recent years does look concerning. (Don’t worry about that plunge in 1898; Elections Canada says it was a referendum of some sort. There’s probably an interesting story there.)

But I got to wondering about how much of our population might be on the list of electors. And if you divide the number of people on the list by the population, you get this:

percent on voters list

There are some pretty startling increases over time on that graph. I’m guessing the jump in the late teens and early ’20s is the result of the fact that women got the vote around that time. But we’ve got more and more of our population on the list of electors from about the 1960s.

So what does that mean for turnout numbers? Well, it seems that turnout numbers are based on a denominator of how many people are on the list of electors. So if we want to roughly control for changes to the percentage of people on the voter’s list, we can compare the population to the number of ballots cast. That looks like this:

ballots by population

Based on this graph, there doesn’t seem to be much of a decline at all. From about 1940 onward, between about 40% and 51% of the population has voted. Since the early ’70s, it’s been 44% to 51%. Our last three elections have been 50%, 44%, and 47%, respectively.

Of course, I’m entirely glossing over some pretty significant demographic changes here. One of them, I’d think, would be big changes in and since the post-war period around what percentage of the population was old enough to vote. Those could have a big effect. But I do find these numbers to be particularly curious.

Now, I’ve spent about 5 minutes on this, and my expertise isn’t in quantitative political science. I’m hoping that some of you political science folks out there have actually done more work on this, or at least know of people who have. I’d certainly appreciate any links to relevant works you could share in the comments section. (And let me know if you see any errors in the graphs or calculations I’ve got above. I slapped them together pretty quickly.)

In the mean time, I’m left wondering: why are we constantly hearing about the moral decay of declining turnout, when as many of us are voting as have in the last several decades? It seems like our actual level of participation may be masked by how good we’ve gotten at getting people signed up to vote.

If the percent of the population voting doesn’t have a clear downward trend over the last few decades, how do our concerns about or perceptions of turnout change? Could we be asking better questions about changes in democratic engagement that go beyond the ballot box itself?

Date of election/referendum Population Number of electors on list Total ballots cast Voter turnout Percent on voters list Ballots by population
7 August – 20 September 1867Footnote 1 3,230,000 361,028 268,387 73.1 11.2% 8.3%
20 July – 12 October 1872 3,689,000 426,974 318,329 70.3 11.6% 8.6%
22 January 1874 3,689,000 432,410 324,006 69.6 11.7% 8.8%
17 September 1878 3,689,000 715,279 534,029 69.1 19.4% 14.5%
20 June 1882 4,325,000 663,873 508,496 70.3 15.3% 11.8%
22 February 1887 4,325,000 948,222 724,517 70.1 21.9% 16.8%
5 March 1891 4,833,000 1,113,140 778,495 64.4 23.0% 16.1%
23 June 1896 4,833,000 1,358,328 912,992 62.9 28.1% 18.9%
29 September 1898Footnote 2 4,833,000 1,236,419 551,405 44.6 25.6% 11.4%
07-Nov-00 4,833,000 1,167,402 958,497 77.4 24.2% 19.8%
03-Nov-04 5,371,000 1,385,440 1,036,878 71.6 25.8% 19.3%
26-Oct-08 5,371,000 1,463,591 1,180,820 70.3 27.2% 22.0%
21-Sep-11 7,204,527 1,820,742 1,314,953 70.2 25.3% 18.3%
17-Dec-17 7,591,971 2,093,799 1,892,741 75 27.6% 24.9%
06-Dec-21 8,760,211 4,435,310 3,139,306 67.7 50.6% 35.8%
29-Oct-25 8,776,352 4,608,636 3,168,412 66.4 52.5% 36.1%
14-Sep-26 8,887,952 4,665,381 3,273,062 67.7 52.5% 36.8%
28-Jul-30 8,887,952 5,153,971 3,922,481 73.5 58.0% 44.1%
14-Oct-35 10,367,063 5,918,207 4,452,675 74.2 57.1% 43.0%
26-Mar-40 10,429,169 6,588,888 4,672,531 69.9 63.2% 44.8%
27 April 1942Footnote 2 11,494,627 6,502,234 4,638,847 71.3 56.6% 40.4%
11-Jun-45 11,494,627 6,952,445 5,305,193 75.3 60.5% 46.2%
27-Jun-49 11,823,649 7,893,629 5,903,572 73.8 66.8% 49.9%
10-Aug-53 14,003,704 8,401,691 5,701,963 67.5 60.0% 40.7%
10-Jun-57 16,073,970 8,902,125 6,680,690 74.1 55.4% 41.6%
31-Mar-58 16,073,970 9,131,200 7,357,139 79.4 56.8% 45.8%
18-Jun-62 18,238,247 9,700,325 7,772,656 79 53.2% 42.6%
08-Apr-63 18,238,247 9,910,757 7,958,636 79.2 54.3% 43.6%
08-Nov-65 18,238,247 10,274,904 7,796,728 74.8 56.3% 42.7%
25-Jun-68 20,014,880 10,860,888 8,217,916 75.7 54.3% 41.1%
30-Oct-72 21,568,311 13,000,778 9,974,661 76.7 60.3% 46.2%
08-Jul-74 21,568,311 13,620,353 9,671,002 71 63.1% 44.8%
22-May-79 22,992,604 15,233,653 11,541,000 75.7 66.3% 50.2%
18-Feb-80 22,992,604 15,890,416 11,015,514 69.3 69.1% 47.9%
04-Sep-84 24,343,181 16,774,941 12,638,424 75.3 68.9% 51.9%
21-Nov-88 25,309,331 17,639,001 13,281,191 75.3 69.7% 52.5%
26 October 1992Footnote 2 Footnote 3 20,400,896 13,725,966 9,855,978 71.8 67.3% 48.3%
25-Oct-93 27,296,859 19,906,796 13,863,135 69.6 72.9% 50.8%
02-Jun-97 27,296,859 19,663,478 13,174,698 67 72.0% 48.3%
27-Nov-00 28,846,761 21,243,473 12,997,185 61.2 73.6% 45.1%
28-Jun-04 30,007,094 22,466,621 13,683,570 60.9 74.9% 45.6%
23-Jan-06 30,007,094 23,054,615 14,908,703 64.7 76.8% 49.7%
14-Oct-08 31,612,897 23,677,639 13,929,093 58.8 74.9% 44.1%
02-May-11 31,612,897 24,257,592 14,823,408 61.1 76.7% 46.9%
Elections Canada Numbers My additions


An afternoon of municipal elections at CPSA

The program for the Canadian Political Science Association at Congress is always engaging, but this year I’m especially happy to have Tuesday afternoon to think in more detail about the municipal elections we in Ontario survived this past October.

I’ve been delighted to work with the Zachary Spicer to put together a roundtable on October’s Ontario municipal elections. Since the excitement in Ontario’s largest city understandably receives a great deal of needed attention, we decided to take a step back and focus on the often fascinating things happening in some of Ontario’s 443 other municipalities.

So on Tuesday afternoon our roundtable will follow a panel on the Toronto municipal elections, which is being jointly run with the political behaviour folks.

In our roundtable, we’re looking forward to setting the stage by talking about the local races in Mississauga, Ottawa, and Waterloo, and having a discussion with you about the 2014 elections and the rich potential terrain for municipal elections studies in Ontario. We’re particularly excited to be joined by Caroline Andrew to tell us about Ottawa, and Tom Urbaniak to tell us about Mississauga. I’ll be contributing some observations from Waterloo Region, and Zac will be providing some broader context and chairing the session.

We hope you’ll join us on Tuesday June 2nd at 3:15 in Sciences sociales FSS/4014 at the University of Ottawa, and help us spread the word. See you soon!

Conferences and PhD student professional development

A plenary panel at the Contesting Canada's Future conference, Trent University, May 2015.
A plenary panel at the Contesting Canada’s Future conference, Trent University, May 2015.

Having just returned from a great experience at the Contesting Canada’s Future conference at Trent University, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my experiences at conferences, and the roll that they can and should play in the professional development of PhD students. I think a partial, but s

ignificant, list would include these three contributions:

1) Reducing Power Differentials

PhD programs are, at least in part, about the process of going from student to scholar, both in practice and in terms of our own self-perception. And while conferences certainly don’t erase the power differentials between professors and graduate students, they can go some way toward evening them out a little.

I’ve been lucky to attend a number of different conferences where I presented on panels with scholars at a variety of career stages. Most scholars I’ve met have been genuinely interested in engaging with me as a colleague both inside and outside panel sessions. Since both course work and the dissertation process have stronger elements of hierarchy, conferences are helpful in the transition of seeing professors as eventual peers.

2) Increasing Perceptions of Competence

Further to the previous point, I suspect conferences can promote perceptions of competence for PhD students. A blog post was making the rounds a few weeks ago about some recent research on PhD persistence. The researchers had found that “Perceived competence appears to be the cornerstone of doctoral studies persistence. This determinant was the strongest distinguisher between completers and non-completers….” While other factors, such as one’s relationship with one’s advisor, were relevant to persistence as well, the researchers suggest that they contribute to outcomes by affecting a student’s perception of their own competence.

Successfully participating in a conference is an immediate source of feedback on one’s own competence. It can be a particularly important one since, as the post author notes, “PhD training requires more autonomy and involves less structured indicators of progression….”

3) Reducing Isolation and Expanding Networks (or “Comforting the Extroverts”)

Particularly for those of us with moderate to significant extrovert tendencies, dissertation writing can be an isolating experience. As I said to a few people during this most recent conference, I often feel like I need to store up all the energy I get from the spring conference season and store it for winter.

So since I spend most of my waking time at conferences delightedly talking with fascinating people, I find conferences somewhat exhausting. But they’re ultimately nourishing, in a meaningful way. And thanks to some of the great conference connections I’ve made over the last few years, many of which have continued in person or online between conferences, they’ve also helped me to get through the scarcity of contact at some other times of the year.

Of course, not all conferences do these things, and they don’t always do them evenly. Issues of class, race, and gender can come into play, and even beyond those factors, not all conferences are positive experiences for graduate students, for a variety of reasons. Yet I think a few good conferences can help us get through graduate programs and feel better about our experience while doing so.

What has your experience as a graduate student at conferences been like? Have you found that they make a meaningful contribution to your professional development?

Garbage collection: Transforming our incentives

Update May 7, 2015: I now have a bit more information about the situation for multi-residential buildings. Please see the end of the post for details.

This week, Region of Waterloo Council is considering changes to the curbside collection program for waste. The April report has two options. Both would put limits on the number of bags of garbage that could be collected per week, with unlimited green bin and blue box collection. But Option 1, the option staff prefer, would collect recycling and organics every week, and garbage bound for the landfill only every two weeks. Option 2 would continue weekly pickup of garbage.

Our community needs to step up and support Option 1. More than half of the garbage that is currently going to the landfill shouldn’t be going there at all: it should be going to the green bin organics program. Another 14% could be going to the blue box recycling program, which was started right here in Waterloo. Option 1 is expected to divert almost twice as much from the landfill as Option 2.

The Region has done extensive survey work on this, and the very readable results are here. The survey showed that the bag limits proposed for each option would accommodate the current practices of the vast majority of households. But bi-weekly garbage pickup, combined with weekly organics and recycling pickup, would do much more to encourage people to separate their recycling and organics, keeping much more of them out of the landfill. (If you’re just hearing about these proposed changes, there’s lots of great information on the Region’s website, including about plans to manage occasional weeks with more garbage.)

With the expenses associated with finding and building a new landfill site, along with the collection contract savings, this isn’t just about our environment. It’s the fiscally responsible choice. But change is hard, and there will likely be some loud voices that are hesitant about this one. Regional Council is holding a special input meeting this Wednesday to hear from the public on this issue. If you receive curbside collection and care about reducing our impact on the environment or having a sustainable and affordable waste management system, please consider registering. If you can’t make it, please submit comments by email before Wednesday.

That’s the current challenge, but this review has gotten me thinking about the bigger picture. We need to have a serious conversation about whether the current eligibility for waste collection meets the Region’s other goals.

The Region’s land use planning framework aims to support the creation of more dense housing in core areas, so that we can accommodate the growth we’re facing while protecting farmland and environmentally sensitive areas, and create more liveable neighbourhoods that are more affordable for our municipal governments to service. Many, like me, are choosing to live in such housing.

Apartments like mine, a 20-storey condo building, should be a breeze for garbage collection. The waste of more than 100 homes can be picked up from my building at a single location, much more efficiently than the curbside collection program could service the same number of households.

But despite this efficiency, the current waste system punishes those of us who live in apartments. My condo building has to budget more than $12,000 per year for garbage collection. So we all pay twice: we pay for the curbside collection program we don’t receive through our property taxes, and then we have to pay for our private collection on top of it.

We know that those of us who choose more dense housing arrangements already subsidize services provided to single-detached homes that are less efficient to service: everything from water to roads to police services. But for garbage, we pay for less efficient services we don’t even receive.

So once some of the curbside collection issues are settled, I hope we can take a serious look at how the garbage collection system fits with the Region’s other goals. As we build more multi-residential housing, the perverse incentives that some programs like waste collection create, and the equity issues within them, need serious examination.

Afterword: Thanks to the proactive generosity of Councillor Galloway and a number of thoughtful staff at Waste Management, I had a chance to learn a bit more about the situation for mutli-residential buildings after the meeting last night. It turns out that the Region does provide a small rebate to multi-residential buildings that must pay for their own waste collection. Off the top of some very smart heads, the folks I talked to thought it was about $32 per unit. In comparison, they estimated, the Region spends about $125 per household to provide curbside collection. I’m hoping to find out more about these arrangements, because I really do think we need to eliminate this disincentive to denser living, but in the meantime, I’m glad to see that the disparity is slightly less than it otherwise would be.

ISA 2015: Our Innovative Panel on “Art as Subject, Art as Method”

It’s that time of year again. I’ll be participating in the International Studies Association’s Annual Convention for the second year in a row, building on some of the work I was doing before shifting my research to the study of local politics and land use planning.

I was asked by Megan Daigle to participate in one of the ISA’s eight Innovative Panel sessions. It’s called “Art as Subject, Art as Method,” and we’re doing two things differently.

First, short presentations from five of us will explore how we can engage art, craft, and practice in the study of international politics.

Second, we’re not just talking about art and craft: we’re doing it. We’re inviting attendees to participate in the making of a collective collage, or to bring their own projects to work on during the session.

My paper is called “Making space for the unexpected: Knitting in formal spaces as disciplinary critique in International Relations.” In it, I use autoethnographic vignettes to explore the subject, and my talk will also cover some of the parallels between the use of narrative and the act of knitting in professional spaces.

I’ve written on knitting and I’ve written using narrative before, but I’m thrilled to engage these questions in such a unique space.

If you’re attending the conference in New Orleans, I hope you’ll join us on Thursday at 1:45 in the Fountain Room at the Hilton (session TC21). And bring a work in progress!

Update February 15, 2015: I should also say that we’d be thrilled if you would bring some images or other materials to contribute to the group collage project.

5 reasons to help an incumbent

This year, I’ve been managing my husband’s city council re-election campaign. So I’m starting to get some more insight into how running a campaign for an incumbent is different than running one for a new candidate. And though it may not be especially sexy, there are great reasons to help an incumbent in an Ontario municipal election over the next two weeks.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are lots of great reasons to help a new candidate running for an open seat, too, having done it in 2010. Races for open seats are often hotly contested by a number of strong and dedicated candidates. There’s less familiarity among voters with any of the possibilities, so people tend to be more engaged at their doors and at debates. And whatever the result is, it’s likely to be hard fought and difficult to predict. In short, there’s lots of unpredictability and excitement in a race for an open seat, and lots of people want to be a part of that.

There are lots of great reasons to help someone challenge an incumbent, too, particularly if that incumbent is someone whose record does not impress you. It’s a crucial part of the democratic process, and challenger candidates need strong volunteer support and financial resources to show a compelling alternative to the way things have been done by an incumbent. It can be exciting to put your time into challenging the status quo.

But incumbent campaigns tend not to have these features. Many incumbents have better name recognition than other candidates, and if they’re good at their jobs, they’ve had contact with many of their constituents over their term(s) of office. They usually know how to run a successful campaign, because they’ve done it before. And if they win, nothing changes: their constituents will have the same representative in December that they had in November.

So one might be excused for thinking that supporting incumbents is relatively boring. But there are exciting and important reasons to help an incumbent, too:

1) Helping government work better. For municipal candidates, elections are one of the best times to find out what your constituents actually think about what’s happening in your local government. Elected officials like my husband, Jeff, knock on doors between elections, too. It’s important because the people elected officials hear from most often are the ones who have specific issues and concerns in mind, and who take the time to participate. That process is crucial, too, but the emails and the meetings and the public information sessions tell you what the most engaged community members think. It’s hard to tell how reflective those viewpoints are of the people who participate. So door knocking helps incumbents to get feedback from different people, and elections are a focused time when residents expect it, and when incumbents can do it more systematically and efficiently, with the support of volunteers. It’s also important for residents; for many of them, this will be the only time they’ll ever have a conversation with someone who represents them. And while I’m all for finding new ways to encourage community members to be engaged between elections, I don’t think we can afford to lose opportunities like election door knocking for their voices to be heard by decision-makers.

2) Helping voters to see an incumbent’s value. Incumbents have something that other candidates don’t: a record. This is a double-edged sword for them.

On the one hand, if an incumbent is reasonably good at their job, voters have a good chance of knowing it. They have access to more reliable information by which to judge incumbents as a candidate. When new candidates run, they may make various kinds of promises. But it’s not until someone is elected and has a chance to fulfil them that community members can evaluate whether that person can be trusted to live up to those promises. So voters have both their words and actions. When one votes for an incumbent, one has a much better idea of what to expect. Voting for a new candidate is risky, insofar as they may be better than an incumbent, but they may be worse. This is an advantage for incumbents, particularly when voters either think highly of their work, or think that what’s been happening in the municipality is good enough.

On the other hand, re-election is the time when sitting elected officials are most pressured to defend their records. In this respect, new candidates have it easier. If an elected official has been in office for four years, s/he will have made decisions that will have angered or irritated someone, while new candidates tend to have a blank slate. It’s more work to put those decisions into the context of the complex pressures elected officials face, and to give people the information they need to evaluate those decisions effectively. Incumbents need your help to do that.

3) Helping to stop unforeseen negative outcomes. Anyone who has been working on elections for a while can tell you stories about incumbents whose re-elections were seen as sure things, but who ended up losing their seats, to everyone’s shock. While it’s true that incumbents have a variety of advantages, lots of incumbents lose, even when people don’t think they will. If you like an incumbent, don’t take her or his re-election for granted. Consider how you’d feel about one of the other candidates winning. And if that outcome concerns you, get out there and help.

4) Protecting important gains. If an incumbent has worked and fought for a decision or policy that you like, you need to defend it. If something’s important, there’s probably someone else out there who doesn’t like it. Challengers often rely on juicy and flashy promises to get noticed, and while some of those promises might be good, some might be unhelpful or even reckless. And without a strong campaign, an incumbent who has worked for your issues might lose to someone who will work against them. Making a donation or volunteering your time increases the chances of continuing down a policy path you care about.

5) Learning more about your local government. Because incumbents have records and experience, most of them know a lot more than the broader public about the complex problems that governments face. It’s harder to explain the various pressures, constraints, and priorities one has faced in making a decision than to talk about an issue in general. So it’s hard work for incumbents to engage voters on the issues that matter to them, and they need to knock on lots of doors with volunteers and spend some money on advertising and materials to do it. There’s a broad public interest in having incumbent candidates justify and explain their decisions during elections. It’s an important part of helping people get informed about how government works and what’s happening in their community.

And beyond public education, helping an incumbent is a great chance to learn more yourself about how local government works in your area. Knocking on doors with a candidate, you’ll probably get the chance to hear discussions between your candidate and voters. I’ve learned a lot about how the City of Waterloo works this way, and also about what various people in my community think about it. This is insight that I could never get from all the years of formal political science education I’ve had.


So with just 13 days between now and election day, take a couple of hours to help an incumbent you like, or make a small donation to their campaign. It may not be sexy, but it matters.