"Moving Left or Right? Racial Politics and Battles over Urban Policy in Canada"
Speaker: Anne-Marie Livingstone, William Lyon Mackenzie King Postdoctoral Fellow
Chair: Ronald Niezen, William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies and Katharine A. Pearson Chair in Civil Society and Public Policy, Faculties of Law and of Arts, McGill University
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In the scholarship on public policy, one central preoccupation has been understanding why governments across national and regional contexts often resort to dramatically dissimilar policies, despite the similarities in the problems they are attempting to solve. Typically, scholars find that the character of the state’s institutions bears the greatest influence on the trajectory of policy. However, the same political institutions can behave quite differently depending on the issues at stake. The presentation describes findings from a comparative study of two Canadian provinces, Quebec and Ontario, that devised opposing solutions to similar crises of urban violence in 2005, at the height of moral panics over delinquency in which racial stereotypes of black youth were embodied as threats to public safety. Contrary to its reputation for progressive social policy, Quebec embraced a disciplinary strategy of fighting “street gangs”; in Ontario, in contrast, where neo-liberalism had taken root, policy-makers voted to break with the trend of austerity and expand social provision for young people. The reasons for these discrepancies lie in the fundamentally contrasting racial politics of the two provinces. In Quebec, the institutions of sub-state nationalism, corporatism, and centralization have laid the foundation for its larger welfare state, yet they have also suppressed and de-politicized issues of racial inequality. As a result, the Montreal police department was able to push through a law-and-order agenda on “street gangs” unimpeded and insulated from public debate. In Ontario, the history of multiculturalism, decentralization, and anti-racism organizing in Toronto created openings for black politicians and black advocacy organizations to intervene in the policy-making in 2005 and persuade authorities to embrace a race-conscious policy, one focusing on poverty, racial discrimination, and gaps in social services. Findings illustrate that the participation of racial minority actors in the policy process can move race-conscious policy forward in Canada, even when the political winds would predict contraction rather than progress in policy.