IMFG Paper | 2017

The Evolving Role of City Managers and Chief Administrative Officers

Ontario has benefited from well-functioning municipal government since Confederation, in large part because timely reforms have dealt with emerging problems. In response to recent issues, the Ontario government has decided that council-staff relations are sufficiently important to impose a legal requirement for a governing policy to be implemented in each of its 444 municipal governments. The often hidden, but very important, relationship between the municipal council and the public service is a key determinant of the success of any municipality. This paper explores how that relationship has changed over time with particular emphasis on the relatively recent ascendance in Ontario of the chief administrative officer (CAO) model. We believe that the CAO model performs better than either the council-committee model on which it was superimposed, or the U.S.-style “strong mayor”/political executive format that some favour. But the CAO model in Ontario is still relatively new and continues to evolve. This paper offers some suggestions for positive ways in which the CAO model can develop and warns of some clouds on the horizon that could harm the Canadian municipal government system.

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