Growth Management and Regional Government: How an Interpretive Approach Can Explain Politicians' Commitment to Smart Growth Policies in Waterloo Region, Ontario
Daley, Caitlin Michelle
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This dissertation is a case study that explains how the Waterloo areas regional government in Ontario, Canada, came to embrace smart growth policies, which aim to protect agricultural and environmentally sensitive areas from urban sprawl while creating more dense urban communities. It develops an interpretive approach based on Mark Bevir and Rod Rhodess work on situated agency to explain why the 2010 to 2014 Region of Waterloo council defended the Regions smart growth policies against two major challenges, choosing to build its intensification-focused light rail transit (LRT) project despite public controversy, and choosing to appeal an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) ruling that threatened its most recent official plan. Based on interviews, archival research, and document review, the dissertation is written in three parts that tell three kinds of stories, using Bevir and Rhodess concepts of tradition, dilemma, and webs of beliefs. Part I uses a historical narrative to explain the tradition of growth management and regional government in the Waterloo area. It finds that regional government and growth management have conditioned each other over the course of the last half century. Part II explains the dilemmas that the 2010 to 2014 regional council faced as a group in deciding to defend its smart growth policies. It finds that dilemmas related to light rail transit were resolved, and that meaningful dilemmas did not form as a result of the OMB ruling. Part III uses a series of narrative vignettes to examine the beliefs and actions of each regional councillor as an individual in the context of their own web of beliefs. It finds that politicians supported smart growth in their own ways and for their own reasons. The dissertation concludes with an assessment of what the three stories taken together show with respect to both specific aspects of planning policy and our understanding of practices of municipal government in Waterloo Region. Finally, it suggests that an interpretive institutionalism in political science may be both possible and warranted, and that narrative approaches to the study of politics can produce accounts that are both academically rigorous and interesting to a broader audience.