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StrategyCorp interviewed the Chief Administrative Officers of 25 upper and lower tier municipal governments in Ontario. The following report is a snapshot of their opinions, combined with commentary compiled by members of our Municipal Practice Group.

Interviewees were taken through the questions set out in page 6, but free to share what was on their mind in a frank, open-ended interview format. We promised to respect their individual confidentiality, and to faithfully record their thoughts.

We were not disappointed.

The interviews confirmed eloquently one thing that we already knew: that the CAO is the essential lynchpin between the elected council and the professional public service. Given the challenges that they recount, we believe it is time to again reflect on the adequacy of the definition of this very important role in Ontario’s Municipal Act. CAOs should not abandon the goal of a more adequate statutory mandate for the position of CAO.

The interviewees shared very frank concerns about the financial sustainability of Ontario municipalities, both as it relates to operating costs and to capital needs. This was not political posturing. It was the direct advice of people who “make it work” every day and who must plan for a future that extends decades.

Participants are also concerned about the ability of the municipal council model to provide solid decision-making in a political environment revolutionized by social media and heightened public expectations.

It is clear that municipal political culture that is adapting in real time – and without an organizational GPS – to extraordinary pressures.

Overall, the interviews revealed a strong cadre of public sector executives, engaged in a daily struggle to lead and manage some serious challenges.

Their struggle is an important one, and on their success rests the success of our communities. Perhaps just as important, in a world where cities and urban regions are the building blocks of economic activity, their success is a foundation of our economic prosperity.