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View from the Cordillera

A Commentary on Achieving Excellence in Local Government
Read by Municipal Leaders on 4 Continents
Published by the Cordillera Institute
Achieving Sustainable Local Government
The Case for Independence (Vol. 1, Issue 1)
It appears that senior governments have finally recognized the pressing need for funding infrastructure and other local-government projects.  This long-awaited result is due to a massive effort by many dedicated people from our municipalities and supporting organizations.  Sadly though, what has been so hard-won can be taken away, at any time, by the same governments which granted it.  As long as our municipalities remain 'children' of our respective states or provinces, we will have to continue to bear whatever burdens those senior governments place on us.  After 100+ years of municipal 'servitude', it's time for a change.  That change is independence for local governments.
Framing the Independence Proposal (Vol. 1, Issue 2)
To win independence, our municipalities will have to convince senior government (particularly our state or our province) that we are capable of shouldering the responsibilities that independence will bring.  We are like the teenager who wants to be recognized as an adult by our parents.  Since many of you have faced a similar situation with your own teenagers, you will be able to anticipate the initial response from our 'municipal parents':  "Just what do you mean by independence?"  When we answer that question, it had better be clear, concise, and with one voice.  If we are unsure of exactly what we want or if we are divided among ourselves, we may expect to receive a pat on the head and to be shown to the door.  Instead of placing ourselves in that position, we need to put our heads together and come up with a proper proposal.
Making Independence Win-Win (Vol. 1, Issue 3)
If we approach municipal independence as the win-win it should be, there is no reason why this transformation should not be a win for the 'parents' of our local governments.  The ultimate objective of gaining independence for our municipalities should be the creation of a sustainable, interdependent system of government – a system which produces wins for all 3 levels – and, most importantly, for the people our governments are supposed to serve.
Is This the Year We Go for Independence? (Vol. 2, Issue 27)
In this issue, we revisit the question of municipal independence.  This was the subject of our inaugural issue.  A year and a half later, it has become even more urgent.  Why have so many of our municipalities disappeared?  Senior governments are still using carrots and sticks to eliminate our smaller municipalities, making local government less local each time.  Why would our senior governments take this action?  Who are its promoters?  Why are local governments viewed as obstacles to senior-government program delivery?  How have senior-government officials responded?  Can this happen in your back yard?  How have these schemes evolved?  What will the future hold for our local governments?  When will we go for independence?  Each month seems to bring more senior-government mandates which local governments are expected to implement – often with your own resources.  If our future vision of local government is not a return to something resembling Napoleonic France, independence for our municipalities should be at, or very near, the top of the agenda.
Achieving True Democracy: Making Senior Government Accountable (Vol. 3, Issue 2)
This issue is part 1 in the series on achieving true democracy.  It begins with the seeds of democracy, which were planted in times past.  Since many nations claim to be democracies and use democracy or democratic in their names, we separate the pretenders from those with a valid claim.  But, are any of these countries true democracies?  Literally, democracy means government by the people – or self-government.  But, do we, as citizens of these countries truly govern ourselves?  Or, do we turn over that responsibility to those we elect and, then, trust – or hope – or despair – that they will govern as we would expect?  As experience has taught us, our senior governments rarely live up to our expectations.  When we find a government which does, it is most likely to be our local government.  So, how can we hold our senior governments accountable throughout their terms of office – not just at election time?  In this issue, we begin to answer that question – and point each of our countries down the road to true democracy.
Achieving True Democracy: Putting It All Together (Vol. 3, Issue 3)
This issue is part 2 in the series on achieving true democracy.  It begins by describing how performance should be governed.  These measures would go a long way to ensuring that campaign promises would be honored.  Despite these safeguards, however, there will be times when commitments are not honored.  So, we see how those who fall short should be disciplined.  Next, we look at the structure which can best achieve true democracy and how such a country would be constituted.  Within this structure, the national government should be limited to the 7 responsibilities listed.  All other matters should be eligible for delegation to local government.  Given this structure, how should the delegation of responsibility be handled?  And, how should each level of government be funded?  The issue concludes with a discussion of the role of local government within this overall structure.  It should be a welcome reprieve from the current situation where you can be asked, at any time, to assume a senior-government responsibility with no assurance that it will be fully funded.  Of course, before any of this can be realized, there is something that we need to achieve.  Can you predict what this might be?
A Proposal for Reforming Local Government (part 1) (Vol. 4, Issue 17)
Guest Author
Hon. Sir Roger Douglas
List Member
House of Representatives
Wellington, New Zealand
This 2-part series was originally prepared by Sir Roger as a submission to the Select Committee on the Local Government (Auckland Council) Bill.  This bill set out the New Zealand government's proposals for the restructuring of the regional (upper-tier-municipal) government for greater Auckland.  Included in this draft legislation was a significant reduction, through forced mergers, in the number of community councils (local municipalities) which make up the greater Auckland region.  Despite the focus of this commentary on this specific region, its analysis and recommendations are worthy of consideration by those involved with local government in any jurisdiction.  In this commentary (part 1), Sir Roger identifies key challenges for local government and details how those challenges can be met through changes in local-government structure.  His proposed changes are designed to improve the performance and accountability of municipalities by making them more competitive and more responsive to the public they serve.  These proposals are both innovative and practical.  And, they can be readily adapted to virtually any municipality.
For more information on this guest author, see the sidebar to the right.
A Proposal for Reforming Local Government (part 2) (Vol. 4, Issue 18)
Guest Author
Hon. Sir Roger Douglas
List Member
House of Representatives
Wellington, New Zealand
This is the 2nd issue in the 2-part series by Sir Roger on reforming local government.  In part 1, he identifies key challenges for local government and details how those challenges can be met through changes in local-government structure.  In part 2, the focus shifts to changes in the functions of local government.  He starts by explaining the proper role of government and how to distinguish a genuine public good from other goods and services.  He then recommends which level of government should be responsible for redistribution; what are the core roles of local government; conditions for taking on any new roles; and conditions for increasing spending on existing roles.  The issue concludes with his recommendations for a referendum process and for annual budget approvals.  His recommendations are designed to improve the performance and accountability of our municipalities by making them more competitive and more responsive to the public.  These proposals are both innovative and practical.  And, they can be readily adapted to virtually any municipality.
For more information on this guest author, see the sidebar to the right.
Surviving and Thriving in an Irrational World (part 1): What Threatens Our Futures (Vol. 4, Issue 23)
Guest Author
Brian Lee Crowley
Managing Director
Macdonald-Laurier Institute
Ottawa, ON, Canada
This 2-part series is based on a talk given to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association at their President's Summit in Red Deer (Alberta) on April 30, 2009 by Dr. Crowley.  Just a little more than 6 months earlier, the financial regulatory committees of the U.S. House and Senate had set off a chain of events which have had devastating effects, not just on the U.S. economy but on economies around the world.  [For more on this fleecing of shareholders and taxpayers, see Issues 03.30 to 03.32.  You can read the summaries of that series here.]  The timing of this chaos, right before a presidential election in the U.S. and a federal election in Canada, inspired the major media to marvel at the 'brilliance' of the strategy.  Labelling as brilliant a strategy which gained political victory at the expense of plunging the country and much of the world into recession is just 1 of many irrationalities of these times in which we are living.
Another irrationality is the cheering of the major media as the new administration in Washington, as well as administrations in Ottawa and other national capitals, launched so-called economic-stimulus packages which are producing the opposite result.  As unemployment continues to rise, as our retirement savings are decimated, as businesses are choked by a scarcity of capital and more punitive regulation, as our senior governments throw around our money – and even more that they have borrowed in our names – as if there is no tomorrow, officials in Washington and in a number of other capitals are calling for more of the same.  And, those in senior government who are responsible for our municipalities are, once again, talking about municipal reform as a solution to their own financial problems.  Just what solutions are they considering?  You guessed it – forcing municipalities to merge.
In part 1 of this guest commentary, Dr. Crowley demonstrates why forced municipal mergers are irrational.  He exposes the myths used to support this agenda and explains why its results fail, time after time, to deliver on its promises.  If your organization is being asked to consider merging with 1 or more of your neighbors or if your senior government is even discussing the possibility, you will want to read this issue.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
For more information on this guest author, see the sidebar to the right.
Surviving and Thriving in an Irrational World (part 2): Where Should Local Government Be Headed? (Vol. 4, Issue 24)
Guest Author
Brian Lee Crowley
Managing Director
Macdonald-Laurier Institute
Ottawa, ON, Canada
In part 1 of this guest commentary, Dr. Crowley demonstrates why forced municipal mergers are irrational.  He exposes the myths used to support this agenda and explains why its results fail, time after time, to deliver on its promises.  In part 2, he outlines a rational solution for local government which will not only enable municipalities to survive but to thrive in these irrational times.  Components of this solution include decentralizing local government, taming the special interests, stimulating competition – both internal and external, encouraging experimentation, measuring and comparing performance, focussing on core functions, stressing customer service, rewarding staff performance, ... and more.  There's even a section on the proper role of senior government.  For those just beginning the journey to excellence in local government, this is a valuable road map.  For those already on the journey, you can use this as a checklist of key bases to be covered.
For more information on this guest author, see the sidebar to the right.
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About the Author
The Hon. Sir Roger Douglas was first elected to public office in 1966, as a Councillor in the City of Manukau.  While on Council, he served on the Finance and General Purposes Committees.  He entered the House of Representatives (the New Zealand parliament) in 1969, as the Member for Manukau.  When David Lange was chosen as Leader of the Labour Party in 1983, he named Douglas as the party's Spokesman on Finance.  He became Minister of Finance when his party won the 1984 election.  The success of his policies in turning around the New Zealand economy made him a sought-after spokesman on structural reform and privatization.  He has undertaken many international consulting assignments and World Bank missions in countries around the world.  In 1993, he founded ACT (Association of Consumers and Taxpayers) which became ACT New Zealand in 1995.  Sir Roger returned to parliament in 2008 as a List Member for ACT New Zealand.  Over the years, he has received many honors and awards including being made Member of the Order of Knights Bachelor in 1991.
About the Author
Brian Lee Crowley is the founding Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a public policy think tank which opened its doors in Ottawa in March 2010.  Prior to that, he spent 15 years as the founding President of AIMS (the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies), a regional think tank based in Halifax (Nova Scotia).  He has twice won the leading international prize for excellence in think tank publications, the Sir Antony Fisher Award.  In 2006-08 he was on secondment as the Clifford Clark Visiting Economist with the federal Department of Finance.  This is the most senior independent economic policy advisory position within the federal government and carries with it the rank of Assistant Deputy Minister.  During his time in Ottawa, Dr. Crowley worked on a broad range of policy files and redesigned the pre-budget consultation process.  In 2007 he was named one of the 100 most influential people in Ottawa by The Hill Times.  His latest book, Fearful Symmetry: The fall and rise of Canada's founding values, has been a big national bestseller in Canada since its release in September 2009.
VFC Catalog
To assist you in finding the issues of most interest to you, the VFC catalog groups them by major subject.  Each major subject has its own page in the catalog.  On each catalog page, you will find 1 or more summaries of the issues which relate to that major subject.  For your convenience when ordering, each summary title is followed by its volume and issue number.  To see the summaries on any of the major subjects, just click on its heading in the list below.
Achieving Sustainable Local Government
Characteristics of Good Government
Structuring Local Government
Assessing Policy Proposals
Paradigms of Leadership
Choosing Our Elected Officials
Building a Win-Win Organization
Accomplishing Your Objectives
Measuring Your Performance
Improving Your Productivity
Managing Your Finances
Relating to the Public
Relating to Senior Government
Growing a Robust Economy
Planning for the Future of Your Community
Moving People and Goods
Delivering Services
Reforming Social Programs
Improving Our Environment
Responding to Crises
What Can We Learn from ...?
Special Issues
Recent VFC Commentaries
Below are links to summaries of recent VFC commentaries.  To read a summary, just click on its title in the list below.
High Noon at the Statehouse (part 1)
High Noon at the Statehouse (part 2)
High Noon at the Statehouse (part 3)
Will It Be Bailouts or Bankruptcies? (part 1)
Will It Be Bailouts or Bankruptcies? (part 2)
Local-Government Reform (part 1)
Local-Government Reform (part 2)
Local-Government Reform (part 3)
Local-Government Reform (part 4)
Local-Government Reform (part 5)
Local-Government Reform (part 6)
What Can We Learn from ... the Plight of Jamaica?
Smart Growth and the Ideal City
In Praise of Smaller Municipalities
The Health-Care Dilemma (part 1)
The Health-Care Dilemma (part 2)
The Health-Care Dilemma (part 3)
The Health-Care Dilemma (part 4)
The Major Media: Is the 4th Estate Acting as a 5th Column?
Is Man-Made Global Warming Just Another Manufactured Crisis? (part 1)
Is Man-Made Global Warming Just Another Manufactured Crisis? (part 2)
Why Your Council Makes Dumb Decisions (part 1)
Why Your Council Makes Dumb Decisions (part 2)
What Can We Learn from ... the Hon. Sir Roger Douglas? (part 1)
What Can We Learn from ... the Hon. Sir Roger Douglas? (part 2)
Should We Plant the Cultural-Planning Seed in the Senior-Government Garden?
Are Some Green Policies Turning Our Communities Brown?
Are We Receiving All the Police Protection We Should Expect? (part 1)
Are We Receiving All the Police Protection We Should Expect? (part 2)
Restoring Our Disappearing Rail Services (part 1)
Restoring Our Disappearing Rail Services (part 2)
Restoring Our Disappearing Rail Services (part 3)
Restoring Our Disappearing Rail Services (part 4)
What Is Excellence?  And, How Can We Achieve It?
A Cure for Adversarial Employer-Employee Relations
More on Curing Adversarial Employer-Employee Relations
To Merge or Not to Merge ...
Do You Really Need to Improve Your Performance?
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