In Ontario there are 444 municipalities that are managed and maintained by municipal staff under the guidance of a Municipal Council. Council members are elected officials who are voted into office in municipal elections. Council members are generally non-partisan and run for office as individuals and not as members of a political party like at the Provincial and Federal levels.

In order to manage all the responsibilities of the municipality, council will establish committees to direct municipal staff. Committees will deal with issues such as transportation, emergency services and finance.

There are hundreds of statutes (legislation and regulations) that affect municipal government. The two main Acts are the Municipal Act and the Planning Act. As such, council members should learn about them.

Under the Municipal Act, the powers of municipal governments are both broad (e.g. ability to enter into contracts, ability to acquire and sell property) and limited (e.g. what are its taxing authority, other revenue tools). It requires municipal councils to set out its procedures in a bylaw and how council members behave through a code of conduct. This Act also requires other accountability and transparency processes.

The Act, when it comes to the authority of a municipality, uses such phrases as "the municipality may..." or "the municipality shall..." to describe the limits of the municipalities' authority.

The Planning Act also affects the powers of municipal governments in Ontario and "provides for a land use planning system led by provincial policy". It sets out the process and its minimum requirements, including public meetings.


Elections in Ontario

Municipal Governance

Who has the authority to make municipalities?

According to Section 92(8) of the Constitution Act, 1867, "In each Province the Legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to... Municipal Institutions in the Province."

What are the roles of a member of Municipal Council?

Members of municipal council have three major roles. These are:

  • Representative - representing their constituents
  • Setting Policy - making decisions and setting policy
  • Administrative - ensuring a proper administrative framework and processes are in place as a corporate employer

In the Representative role, council members are responsible for looking after the best interests of their constituents while keeping in mind that their votes on issues should serve the "greater good".

The reality is that there is no single, correct approach to the representative role and often you may find that you fall somewhere in the middle on a particular issue.

Of course, you will want to try to help your constituents, but you must make sure that you familiarize yourself with any policies that your municipality may have in place regarding complaints and citizen inquiries. When in doubt, remember to consult municipal staff.

What is a Mayor?

A Mayor, also called a Reeve or a Warden is the head of council and is an elected at large position that  generally presides at all council meetings, are ex officio members of all committees and can make recommendations to the council.

Are there different types of Municipalities?

Yes. In Ontario there are:
  • Regions: A regional government is a federation of the local, lower tier municipalities within its boundaries. Regions are referred to as "upper tier" municipalities and provide services such as: arterial roads; transit; policing; sewer and water systems; waste disposal; region-wide land use planning and development; as well as health and social services. Click here to learn more and see a list of Regions in Ontario.
  • Counties: A county government is a federation of the local municipalities within its boundaries. Counties are referred to as "upper tier" municipalities. Counties exist only in southern Ontario. Local municipalities (cities, towns, villages, townships) within counties provide the majority of municipal services to their residents. The services provided by county governments are usually limited to arterial roads, health and social services and county land use planning. Click here to learn more and see a list of Counties in Ontario.
  • Districts: Areas may use the term district but these are territorial boundaries that do not serve any municipal government purpose. Only the District Municipality of Muskoka provides services on a regional-scale. Click here to learn more and see a list of Districts in Ontario.
  • Single Tiers: Single-tier municipalities exist across Ontario. They include separated municipalities that are geographically located within a county (see County list) but are not part of the county for the municipal purposes. Click here to learn more and see a list of Single Tiers in Ontario.
  • Lowe Tiers: Depending on its size and its history, a local municipality may be called a city, a town, or a township or a village. They are also referred to as "lower tier" municipalities when there is another level of municipal government like a county or region involved in providing services to residents. Click here to learn more and see a list of all Municipalities in Ontario.

How do Municipalities pay for all the services they provide?

Municipal governments in Ontario spend billions each year to provide the public services to meet the needs of their residents.
Municipal governments raise most of the money for financing these services from the property taxes paid by residents and businesses in the local area. Additional funding comes from "user fees" or "non-tax revenue" from parking fines, and some funding still comes from the provincial government.

What are property taxes?

Municipal governmenst collects property taxes from each property owner. Tenants pay a portion of their landlord's property taxes through their rent.  

The taxes are calculated by multiplying the assessed value of a property by a tax rate. There are two parts to the tax rate:  
  • the municipal tax rate, which is set by your municipal government; and
  • the education tax rate, which is set by the provincial government.  
A municipality can set different tax rates for different classes of property, and the main classes include residential, multi-residential, commercial and industrial.
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Municipalities in Ontario video
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What is Municipal Government?
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