Local Government

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Business Dictionary (reference below) defines local government as “an administrative body for a small geographic area, such as a city, town, county, or state” and notes that:

“A local government will typically only have control over their specific geographical region, and can not pass or enforce laws that will affect a wider area. Local governments can elect officials, enact taxes, and do many other things that a national government would do, just on a smaller scale.”

Writing in the Oxford Handbook of Canadian Politics, Andrew Sancton (reference below, p. 132-33) describes what this means in Canada:

“The term local government does not appear in the Constitution Act, 1867. 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. Municipalities had existed in one form or another in British North America since 1785, when the City of Saint John, New Brunswick, was incorporated by royal charter. 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). Such entities are generally designated as cities, towns, villages, counties, or townships.”

Sancton notes that some authorities include “autonomous boards, commissions and funds” and “school boards” in their definition of local government, such a definition is far from precise. He notes that:

“Counting the municipalities themselves is less problematic, although even here there are difficulties. For example, New Brunswick contains 269 “local service districts” that provide municipal services to 37% of the province’s population … but these districts are not counted as municipalities because they are not subject to the province’s Municipalities Act. British Columbia does not have a Municipalities Act. Its Local Government Act (section 5) defines “local government” as comprising the province’s 155 “municipalities” and twenty-seven “regional districts.” For our purposes, regional districts are considered municipal governments. They act as municipal governments in (unincorporated) areas of the province that otherwise do not have municipalities and they provide intermunicipal services and regional planning in areas that do. Quebec’s eighty-six “municipal regional counties” act in the same way and are clearly municipalities because they are governed by the Municipal Code of Quebec. Ontario’s thirty regional governments and counties are likewise governed by the Ontario Municipal Act, but … their territories are made up exclusively of areas that are also covered by lower tier municipalities. In small towns and rural areas near Montreal and Quebec City, there are three separate levels of incorporated municipal government: the local municipality, the municipal regional county, and the metropolitan community…

“Outside Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia, residents either have no municipal government at all (unincorporated areas) or only one level of municipal government. Even in Ontario and Quebec, many residents live in areas with only one level of municipal government, the most notable examples being the 2.5 million people in the city of Toronto, a new municipality created in 1998 by a provincial law that amalgamated the upper tier municipality of metropolitan Toronto and its six constituent lower tier municipalities.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Municipal Governance (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Business Dictionary, local government, at http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/local-government.html, accessed 29 September 2016.

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.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 29 September 2016.