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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Municipal water supply governance in Ontario: neoliberalization, utility restructuring, and infrastructure management Furlong, Kathryn


This thesis examines the interaction of political-economic restructuring, sustainability, and the governance of municipal services in the province of Ontario, Canada. Two issues are studied: the restructuring of business models, and programs for sustainable infrastructure management (focusing on programs for the reduction of water consumption and production). The primary data are derived from a province-wide expert survey, archival research, a one-day expert workshop, and seven municipal case studies. Since the early 1990s, political-economic restructuring in Ontario predominantly reflects processes and policy orientations consistent with neoliberalization. Two strands of research posit particular relationships between neoliberalization and sustainability. One (associated with political ecology) asserts that neoliberalization yields negative outcomes for environmental policy. The other (ecological modernization) asserts that neoliberal restructuring leads to environmental improvements. This thesis tests and complicates both sets of claims. Specifically, neoliberalization does not necessarily induce improved programming for sustainability and can, hinder its development. Neoliberalization, however, is not the unique hindrance to progress on sustainability. Rather, a techno-physical approach to service delivery combined with governance arrangements that neither empower nor compel a variety of necessary actors presents a key barrier to sustainability. In terms of the restructuring of business models, I find that the primary neoliberal strategy is the depoliticization of governance through the pursuit of arms length business models for service delivery. This, however, is not readily accomplished in complete or straightforward ways. Municipal governments and anti-neoliberal alliances have complex relationships to neoliberalization that prove important in restructuring outcomes. Specifically, neoliberalization is also contested within municipal government and for environmental advocates, although their best option, the municipal department model remains unsatisfactory. Concerning sustainable infrastructure management, the thesis finds that up-take of supply and demand management in Ontario has been limited to date. This results from incentives created by policy processes associated with neoliberalization (specifically new public management) and technically-driven management methods in the water sector. Moreover, where programs for sustainable infrastructure management currently occur, they are rarely motivated by sustainability concerns. Importantly, however, sustainable infrastructure management is underdeveloped for reasons other than neoliberalization; governance arrangements and the continuing supply-side orientation of water utilities are other factors.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International