Municipal Governance

… a core topic in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

TorontoCityCouncilTopic description

This topic deals with how cities are governed, what municipal governments actually do, and their relationship to national and state or provincial governments.

Topic learning outcome

Upon completing this topic the student will be broadly familiar with the way cities are governed and will be familiar with the concepts in the table below.

Core concepts associated with this topic
Local Government

Local Government Functions

Provincial Controls over Local Government

Provincial Ministers of Municipal Affairs

Municipal Elections

Municipal Finance

Machinery of Municipal Government

Municipal Special Purpose Bodies

Municipal Organizations

Developers, Citizens, and Local Government

Administrative Tribunals and Municipal Government

Multilevel Governance in Cities

Project-based vs. Program-based Federal Involvement in Urban Affairs

Recommended readings for 8 hours of preparation

Concept pages noted above.

T.J. Plunkett and Julie Smyth (2013), Municipal Government, Canadian Encyclopedia, at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/municipal-government/, accessed 30 September 2016.

T.J. Plunkett (2006), Municipal Administration, Canadian Encyclopedia, at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/municipal-administration/, accessed 30 September 2016.

John F. Graham (2006), Municipal Finance, Canadian Encyclopedia, at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/municipal-finance/, accessed 30 September 2016.

Federation of Canadian Municipalities (2006), Your guide to municipal institutions in Canada, at https://www.fcm.ca/Documents/tools/International/Your_Guide_to_Municipal_Institutions_in_Canada_EN.pdf, accessed 29 September 2016.

Infrastructure Canada, About Infrastructure Canada, at http://www.infrastructure.gc.ca/about-apropos/index-eng.html, accessed 30 September 2016.

Prime Minister of Canada (2015), Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Mandate Letter, at http://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-infrastructure-and-communities-mandate-letter, accessed 30 September 2016.

Premier of Ontario (2016), September 2016 Mandate letter: Municipal Affairs – Premier’s instructions to the Minister on priorities, at https://www.ontario.ca/page/september-2016-mandate-letter-municipal-affairs?_ga=1.35732964.533003089.1460318082, accessed 30 September 2016.

Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs (2009), Legislation – alphabetic list of statutes administered by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, at http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page1679.aspx, accessed 30 September 2016.

City of Toronto, The Roles of the Mayor and City Council, at http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=eb6d0f1025c21410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD&vgnextchannel=9632acb640c21410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD, accessed 30 September 2016.

City of Toronto, City Council and its Committees, at http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=762b6804e1f22410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD&vgnextchannel=9632acb640c21410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD, accessed 30 September 2016.

City of Toronto, Decision-Making, at http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=e26d0f1025c21410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD&vgnextchannel=9632acb640c21410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD, accessed 30 September 2016.

City of Toronto, Elections, at http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=386d0f1025c21410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD&vgnextchannel=9632acb640c21410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD, accessed 30 September 2016.

Region of Peel, Corporate Overview, at https://www.peelregion.ca/overview.htm, accessed 30 September 2016.

Recommended readings in MPP and MPA courses

Toronto PPG1000 Governance and Institutions

Andrew Sancton (2010), Local Government, in The Oxford Handbook of Canadian Politics, eds. John C. Courtney and David E. Smith, pp. 132-151. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Andrew Sanction (2011), Central Governments and Local Governments, in Canadian Local Government: An Urban Perspective, pp. 26-40. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Martin Horak (2012), Conclusion: Understanding Multilevel Governance in Canada’s Cities, in Sites of Governance: Multilevel Governance and Policy Making in Canada’s Big Cities, eds. Martin Horak and Robert Young, pp. 339-370. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Concept comprehension questions

AQ100.07.01. Among statements a-d pertaining to the term local government choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. A local government is an administrative body for a small geographic area, such as a city, town, county, or state.

b. In Canada, the term local government does not appear in the Constitution Act; the closest reference is found in section 92 (8), where the authority to make laws relating to “Municipal Institutions in the Province” is placed under the exclusive jurisdiction of provincial legislatures.

c. Because of the high demands placed on provincial budgets by municipal institutions some provinces have petitioned the federal government to assume the responsibility for municipal institutions in their province.

d. All Canadian provinces have enacted laws that provide for the existence of municipalities (in other words, corporate entities with defined territories and delegated legal authority to enact bylaws relating to a range of government functions generally considered to be local in nature) and such entities are generally designated as cities, towns, villages, counties, or townships.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.02. Among statements a-d pertaining to local government functions choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The functions performed by local governments differ but everywhere in Canada they include regulation of the built environment and provision of services to real property, including local roads and sidewalks, and the provision of recreational and cultural facilities such as parks, community halls, and public libraries.

b. In more urban areas, local governments provide public transit, regulate taxis, purify and distribute piped water, and provide for sewage collection and treatment.

c. Urban municipalities generally have a responsibility for policing, although there are varying mechanisms in different provinces to insulate police from the direct control of municipal councils.

d. As part of a municipal financing pilot project, several cities in Canada have recently been granted authority to collect up to 2% income tax on business and individuals located within their boundaries.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.03. Among statements a-d pertaining to provincial controls over local government choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Because municipal issues tend to be contentious and because provincial government offers more opportunities for good news announcements, provincial politicians tend to keep themselves removed from local government issues.

b. Under Canada’s constitution, provincial legislatures can do whatever they want with local governments.

c. There is in every province at least one general law that establishes the basic rules and structures of municipal government. Such laws are frequently amended as a result of particular issues and problems, many of which were unforeseen when the legislation was originally approved.

d. Some major Canadian cities – Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver, for example – are governed by provincial laws specifically tailored for their own purposes. Although such laws give no more protection to cities against arbitrary provincial legislation than is available under general municipal legislation, they usually provide for more functional authority than is generally found in smaller places.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.04. Among statements a-d pertaining to provincial ministers of municipal affairs one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Each province has a cabinet minister designated to look after the municipal system within the province, responsible for ensuring that legislation is in place and implemented so that municipalities can do their jobs effectively, efficiently, and democratically.

b. Because municipalities are legally creatures of the provinces, they are, in effect, extensions of the provincial government and, although rarely used in practice, the municipal affairs minister in most provinces can give direct instructions to a mayor or municipal council on any matter within the municipality’s jurisdiction.

c. In some provinces the legislation gives the municipal affairs minister considerable policy authority to influence what municipalities do; in others there is much less in the way of central supervision.

d. There is considerable variation in the number of provincial public servants who report to the municipal affairs minister. These and other matters of common concern are discussed at annual meetings of Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Local Government that are organized by the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.05. Among statements a-d pertaining to municipal elections one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. In Canada there is broad support for nonpartisanship at the municipal level even if it is generally understood that political parties are often at work behind the scenes.

b. Support for nonpartisan elections can be traced back to the North American urban reform movement that aimed at eliminating the municipal corruption associated with party-based urban political machines and introducing professional management to city governments.

c. None of the occasional attempts to introduce political parties to municipal politics in Canada has been successful.

d. The terms of office for municipal councilors have been shorted in recent years, in many cases to two years, the justification being that municipal councils need to seek reaffirmation of their positions in a rapidly changing urban context.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.06. Among statements a-d pertaining to municipal finance one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Municipal finance focuses on the revenues and expenditures of municipalities, where revenues are secured from local taxes and other local revenues and from provincial and federal grants.

b. Municipalities are not generally allowed to run deficits in their operating budgets. Borrowing is typically for capital assets and the debt is amortized approximately over the life of the asset.

c. Taxes levied on real property (land and buildings) are the traditional and principal source of municipal tax revenue. Because of the importance and difficulty of establishing accurate and uniform assessments, all provinces have in recent years either assumed complete responsibility for assessment or imposed careful supervision over municipal assessment.

d. Property taxes include taxes for both general municipal purposes and schools, which in some provinces are levied directly by school boards and in others by the municipalities. Government grants include grants for education as well as for general municipal purposes.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.07. Among statements a-d pertaining to machinery of municipal government one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The basic structure of municipal government is simpler than that found at the provincial and federal levels because there are no separate legislative and executive branches of government at the municipal level.

b. Municipal responsibilities are concentrated in the elected council and are carried out by appointed staff who are mostly organized into a number of functionally specialized departments.

c. Municipal councils consist of a head (known as warden or chair in counties and other upper tier governments, as mayor in cities and towns, and as reeve, chair, or overseer in villages and townships) and a widely varying number of councillors.

d. Most Canadian cities use the “council manger system” separating the policy and administrative activities of the municipality and involves the appointment of a professional administrator (the manager) to whom is delegated complete responsibility for administering the programs of the municipality, including coordination and supervision of all staff.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.08. Among statements a-d pertaining to municipal special purpose bodies one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Municipal governments include a number of special purpose boards or commissions that these include library boards, water utility commissions, transit authorities, police commissions, parks boards and conservation authorities.

b. Most of these special purpose bodies are created by provincial governments, and provincial statutes outline the procedures for the appointment of members.

c. Most of these bodies enjoy varying degrees of independence from municipal jurisdiction, although municipalities must provide a considerable proportion of their funds.

d. Because special purpose  bodies fall under the control of both the provincial and municipal governments, it is difficult for the public to know just who is responsible and for what.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.09. Among statements a-d pertaining to municipal special purpose bodies one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Municipal governments include a number of special purpose boards or commissions that these include library boards, water utility commissions, transit authorities, police commissions, parks boards and conservation authorities.

b. Most of these special purpose bodies are created by provincial governments, and provincial statutes outline the procedures for the appointment of members.

c. Most of these bodies enjoy varying degrees of independence from municipal jurisdiction, although municipalities must provide a considerable proportion of their funds.

d. Because special purpose  bodies fall under the control of both the provincial and municipal governments, it is difficult for the public to know just who is responsible and for what.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.10. Among statements a-d pertaining to municipal organizations one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Municipal organizations are associations of municipalities within a province (state) or a country.

b. The existence of these associations points to an obvious tension in the status of municipalities within the Canadian political universe. On the one hand they are clearly elected governments, having to deal daily with interest groups clamouring for lower taxes, a cleaner environment, better roads, and more housing for people who cannot afford market prices. On the other hand, from the perspective of the federal and provincial governments, municipalities make their case as they themselves were just another interest group.

c. In Ontario, there is an Ontario Small Urban Municipalities (OSUM) and a Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) to articulate the interests of smaller cities and towns.

d. In Ontario there is a Metropolitan Centres of Ontario Group (MCOG) to articulate the interests of the larger cities.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.11. Among statements a-d pertaining to developers, citizens, and local government one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Because all municipal councils set policy for local land use and infrastructure the people with the greatest financial stakes in local politics are the people who make their living from building.

b. At its core, Canadian municipal politics often seems little more than a constant battle between developers and citizens groups, sometimes with developers in the ascendancy (usually when people are worried about employment and economic growth) and sometimes with citizens groups apparently able to veto almost any project that is physically near to mobilized residents.

c. Because municipalities are the level of government physically closest to most citizens, it is often assumed that citizens identify more with the local level than with the provincial and federal but the harsh reality is that Canadian nonpartisan municipal government is often difficult to understand, technical in its functional scope, and generally not covered well by the media.

d. The combination of nonpartisan politics and generally low voter interest means that highly motivated groups of mobilized citizens have considerable power to influence municipal councils.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.12. Among statements a-d pertaining to administrative tribunals and municipal government one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Many provincial statutes, especially those concerned with land-use planning, provide opportunities for aggrieved local citizens to appeal to a provincial minister or to a provincial administrative tribunal.

b. In Ontario, there is an extremely powerful tribunal, the Ontario Municipal Board, and as long as it maintains its power, Ontario municipalities will be among the weakest in North America when it comes to their ability to control their own land use.

c. In order to regain their control over land use planning it would be relatively easy for mayors and citizens groups to persuade the provincial government to reform the Ontario Municipal Board, despite the interest in maintaining the status quo expected from developers and from the lawyers and consultants involved in Ontario Municipal Board hearings.

d. Administrative tribunals exist for local government functions other than land-use planning. For example, most provinces have some form of tribunal that regulates municipal police services, hears appeals from police officers about disciplinary issues, and investigates province-wide policing issues (investigating citizen complaints against particular officers is usually carried out by yet another body).

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.13. Among statements a-d pertaining to multilevel governance in cities one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Multilevel governance as a mode of policy making that involves complex interactions among multiple levels of government and social forces.

b. Multilevel governance as it has emerged in Canada’s big cities rests on the premise that the policy concerns of nested layers of authority in the Canadian federal system are interdependent and thus require ongoing multilevel coordination.

c. Many of the multilevel policy successes hinge on the development of collaboration agreements or collaborative institutions that limit inter-agent transaction costs and help manage the agenda instability that so often threatens the sustainability of multilevel policy initiatives.

d. As multilevel governance evolves in Canada there will be little or no need for constitutional changes or dramatic provincial measures to transfer more formal authority to cities.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.07.14. Among statements a-d pertaining to project-based vs. program based federal involvement in urban affairs choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The federal government could contribute significantly to improving the quality of multilevel governance if it put more emphasis on its project-based involvement in urban affairs than its program-based involvement.

b. Project-based intervention involves the federal government helping to develop and fund a major urban project on a one-off basis, usually when local elites in a major city team up with provincial officials or local-area federal MPs to lobby the federal government for assistance with a high-profile urban development or mega-event initiative.

c. Program-based federal involvement in urban affairs typically arises in policy fields that are at least partly in federal jurisdiction, but present policy problems requiring spatially differentiated responses. In these cases, the federal government develops policy parameters that embody a number of high-level goals. These are then implemented through the distribution of federal funding to decentralized agents – either to provincial governments which in turn transfer the funding to local agents on a project basis, or directly to municipalities or local societal agents whose projects meet the federal policy goals.

d. The federal government’s involvement in multilevel urban affairs is often project-based which heightens the prospects that short-term political or electoral goals will drive federal urban initiatives, lowers the prospects for sustained collaboration across levels of government, and produces an unstable multilevel policy environment.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 3 February 2017.

Image: CityNews, 7 new faces at Toronto City Council, at http://www.citynews.ca/2014/10/28/7-new-faces-at-toronto-city-council/, accessed 18 August 2016.