Comparing Ambiguities: Municipalities, Francophone Minority Communities, and Immigration in Canada

February 02, 2021

By Professor Aude-Claire Fourot

This article analyzes the implication of municipal governments and civil society actors in immigration through multilevel and collaborative governance arrangements. It argues that studying the roles of ambiguities is critical to understanding the activism of political entities with ill-defined status and mandates, such as municipalities and francophone minority communities (FMCs). This research adds to the literature on the “local turn” by highlighting that ambiguities are both a condition—that is, a driver that makes collaborative and multilevel arrangements work—and an outcome of collaboration practices. Indeed, these collaboration practices are characterized by ambiguities regarding the balance of power, the aims of collaboration in a competitive sector, and conflicting forms of accountabilities. The article identifies three approaches that actors use to deal with these ambiguities in a context where resources are not equitably distributed and where the role of the federal government is critical. In a context where municipalities and FMCs are in a non-dominant position within the policy-making process, actors develop adaptive, rather than transformative, approaches to ambiguities.

The first approach consists of maintaining forms of ambiguities precisely to make use of this factor, enabling activism while at the same time allowing for room to maneuver in a changing environment. In the second approach, actors seek to benefit from the ambiguities of collaborative governance processes to advance their own agenda and interests. Finally, the third approach refers to the capacity of stakeholders to delegate the management of ambiguities to others, while allowing actors to avoid conflicts and to position themselves as leaders in a specific domain.

Beyond the immigration sector, further research could investigate to what extent these strategies can be applied to actors involved in different sectors where networks are abundant: homelessness, climate change, economic development or Indigenous affairs. In Canada, a better understanding of the role of ambiguities in public policy calls particularly for a comparison with Indigenous communities, which are already integrated in immigration networks in Vancouver and Winnipeg. Beyond the Canadian case, understanding the role of ambiguities could also improve our understanding of networks and their way of functioning. Transnational city networks could be further analyzed by looking at the roles played by ambiguities as openings for getting involved in immigration, as well as at how TCNs deal with accountability and legitimacy issues once they are mobilized in policy-making processes.


*Many thanks to Caroline Andrew, Rachel Laforest, Rémi Léger, and Christophe Traisnel for their insightful comments on previous drafts. Special thanks to Bella Aung and Nick Poullos for their remarkable work as RAs and to The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for their financial support.


Citation: Aude-Claire Fourot (2021). Comparing Ambiguities: Municipalities, Francophone Minority Communities, and Immigration in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 1-21. doi: 10.1017/S0008423920000888