Carey Doberstein

Associate Professor

Research Interests

Agencies and arms-length bodies in Canada
Public servant behavior in Canada
How citizens engage with government as part of local consultations and public engagement
Homelessness (politics, governance, policy)
Local government or governance

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.


Master's students
Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows
Any time / year round

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Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

How local politicians navigate interests and institutions responsible for land use : the case of Vancouver’s Langara Golf Course (2023)

With the growth of urban populations and development in major Canadian cities, local governments face increasing challenges in determining how best to regulate public space and navigate competing pressures associated with land use. However, despite its importance, the dynamics influencing local politicians’ decisions regarding land use, particularly in the context of municipal golf courses, remain understudied. This thesis addresses this research gap by investigating the case of Langara Golf Course in Vancouver, British Columbia. The golf course, a 114-acre city-owned facility, has become the centre of a contentious debate, sparking intense deliberations by local politicians on exploring alternative land uses. Employing a mixed-method approach, this study combines in-depth interviews with five local politicians and comments from 30 local politicians during the 2018-2020 deliberation period. The integration of qualitative and quantitative content analysis techniques reveals five key themes that influence local politicians' decisions regarding municipal golf course land use: (1) partisan affiliation, (2) equity considerations, (3) environmental factors, (4) economic factors, and (5) governance institutions and systems stabilizing municipal golf courses. The findings underscore the significant influence of partisan affiliation on shaping decisions regarding municipal golf course land use, showing that conservative politicians are more inclined than their progressive counterparts to seek to maintain them. Moreover, they shed light on the role of local governance structures and systems, revealing that the at-large electoral system in Vancouver discourages local politicians from seriously considering alternative land uses for recreational sites like Langara Golf Course. In response to these findings, this thesis introduces a new framework for understanding how local politicians navigate interests and institutions responsible for land use from either a systemic or localized approach. The systemic approach emphasizes municipal golf courses as part of a larger parks and recreation portfolio, while the localized approach focuses on site-specific factors and the needs of the immediate community nearby. By situating golf courses within the broader context of urban governance and public administration research, this thesis constitutes an early effort to understand political decision-making in managing public spaces and recreational amenities in large and diverse cities.

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Temporary foreign agricultural worker exploitation in Ontario and British Columbia : why differences in provincial labour policy matter (2023)

Temporary Foreign Agricultural Workers (TFAW) in Canada have a heightened vulnerability to exploitation and workplace abuse under the Federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Despite TFAWs admittance to Canada through one of four agricultural streams in the TFWP, TFAWs deal more closely with provincial labour law, statutes, and policy. This thesis explores why TFAWs are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and whether differences in provincial labour policy contribute to heightened rates of exploitation. By employing the Labour Law Approach, this thesis seeks to understand the scope and severity of TFAW exploitation in Canada. Ultimately, this thesis makes two arguments. First, the current employment rules afforded to TFAWs in both Ontario (ON) and British Columbia (BC) provide insufficient protections and safeguards for the rights of TFAWs. Second, the current Labour Law Approach is unable to capture the scope and severity of the exploitation that TFAWs face in Canada. A qualitative case study based approach is utilized throughout the thesis by drawing upon Statistics Canada vignettes, legislative review, document review, and tribunal and court decisions. Ultimately, the research demonstrates that differences in provincial labour policy do affect the levels and kinds of exploitation TFAWs endure within the province they work. Occupational and safety standards that outline the rights of TFAWs in both ON and BC largely prove inadequate and further entrench TFAW vulnerability and precarity. Although BC ensures greater workplace protections for TFAWs than ON, workplace exploitation and abuse remain a serious concern in the province. Reforms to policy are recommended. Researching this reality through the Labour Law Approach proved concerning as it is likely unable to capture the full scope and severity of TFAW exploitation. By measuring abuse and exploitation through legal avenues for recourse, the Labour Law Approach misses the manyinstances of TFAW abuse that go unreported. Reforms to this approach are suggested; namely, to incorporate aspects of other frameworks aimed to understand labour exploitation and to utilize qualitative methods to further comprehend these experiences. Future research should employ qualitative methods that centre TFAWs as active agents in their resistance to workplace abuse and recommended policy solutions.

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Churches and public participation: the case of the Flint water crisis (2022)

Scholars have examined how social and economic factors make local governments ineffective and contribute to environmental crises. In response to these crises, which vary from activism to advocacy, environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) have strived for environmental and social justice. Consequently, research into ENGOs has received significant attention in current literature. However, the current literature has failed to consider the role of faith-based organizations (FBOs), particularly churches, in promoting community participation and activism. Hence, by diverting the main focus from NGOs to FBOs, this thesis aims to explore the roles of churches as a faith-based organizations in developing community participation in Flint, Michigan in response to the water crisis. Employing a qualitative approach, the thesis engages in thematic analysis to understand the emerging role of churches and their effectiveness in developing community-based participation and collective political mobilization in the Flint water crisis. The research finds that churches are involved in the process and outcomes of community-based participation in Flint to various degrees. The thesis explores the implications of church involvement in facilitating desired community participation and policy outcomes and concludes by recommending further work to develop a complete picture of the role of churches in community development in Flint.

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Partisanship, ideology, and civic autonomy: towards a comprehensive framework for measuring autonomy in Canadian cities (2022)

Notwithstanding the expansion of the role, capacity and democratic legitimacy of municipal governments in modern public life in Canada, they remain vulnerable to the whims of their respective provincial governments. Smith and Spicer’s (2018) work, “The Local Autonomy of Canada’s Largest Cities”, is the first attempt within the Canadian urban politics field to quantitatively measure local autonomy in Canadian cities, drawing on previous qualitative research within Canada and international quantitative indices. Most of their measures of local autonomy are naturally suited to quantitative research (such as per capita expenditures); however, other measures are more challenging to place within a quantitative framework, prompting the opportunity for critique and refinement. My thesis argues that two of Smith and Spicer’s indicators of political autonomy are not fully supported by the literature, lack a strong theoretical narrative for their explanatory power, and are limited by the constraints of their strictly quantitative methodology. Additionally, I contend that their universality is overestimated, and that political autonomy would be captured more powerfully through an understanding of the historical context and the motivations of powerful actors in cities and provincial capitals. These two measures of political autonomy, and Smith and Spicer’s index more broadly, would benefit from additional nuance stemming from historical qualitative research which can illuminate the details, contingencies, and unique dynamics that can be lost within the requirements of quantitative research. My thesis aims to demonstrate the importance of capturing this nuance through an examination of the history of Vancouver politics vis-à-vis the BC provincial government throughout the 1930s. This historiography supports my assertion that political actors are not bound by the institutional constraints assumed by Smith and Spicer’s measures of political interconnectivity. Rather than Smith and Spicer’s assumption that politically migratory politicians will always support policy which favours municipalities, one can adopt an alternative institutionalist lens which instead assumes the careerist aspirations of Canadian politicians and how they behave when vying for political power. The presence of a political threat further contributes to this behaviour, suggesting that the index may benefit from accounting for ideological and partisan conflicts.

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Networked technopolitics within the smart city: urban social movements, public policy, and surveillance capitalism from Barcelona to Toronto (2021)

The rise of modernity has been the history of urbanization, stoked by the trade of global capitalthrough worldwide financial networks. This course has led to the city's primacy as an economic,cultural, and political fixture within an interconnected world order. With the advancement ofinformation and communication technologies, we are now undergoing a radical shift in how weimagine cities from the ground up, creating an urban setting that reflects new technical systems,political arrangements, and economic priorities. Central players in this new smart city are urbansocial movements, firms specializing in surveillance, and urban regimes, negotiating rights,privileges, and expectations within an emerging network society. This thesis investigatesprecisely how urban social movements shape public policy and the development of the smartcity. This research covers the outcomes of technopolitical practices employed by networkedactors across physical and virtual terrains, contesting the balance of power between residents,firms, and public institutions. The following analysis utilizes a qualitative method with a casestudy approach, examining the public policy process in Barcelona, Spain, and Toronto, Canada.Included are examinations of literatures, original documents, and public statements by relevantparticipants in the struggle for dignity, respect, and voice. Conclusions from this inquiry paint ahopeful picture. In the race to dominate public purchase of technological infrastructure, firmshave motivated urban citizens to mobilize resources through the same information andcommunications technologies deployed, resulting in new data governance and procurementprocesses that craft an innovative revision of the smart city. Whether through co-production ofpublic policy using open-source software or centering privacy as a non-negotiable condition of business, the findings demonstrate a normative change occurring in contemporary urbandevelopment.

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Current Students & Alumni

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