06/15/2006

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing John Gerretsen has tabled a Bill entitled the Municipal Statute Law Amendment Act that introduces some significant changes to the Municipal Act.
Analysis: 

The Municipal Act is the cornerstone of the provincial-municipal relationship. The changes proposed in the Bill help move Ontario toward a more mature relationship with municipal governments by reducing Provincial micro-management and providing broader, accountable authority for municipal governments to pass laws. Broader authority and less prescriptive regulation signal that the Province believes the municipal order of government is respected, responsible, and accountable. Ontario’s municipalities will be able to strengthen good governance, encourage economic growth, and promote a high quality of life as a result of improvements in this legislation.   

The new Act stops short of offering municipalities broader taxation authority. While more permissive taxation tools would not have begun to offset the high cost of providing downloaded provincial community health and social services, it was viewed as a potential source of some relief for cash-strapped municipalities. Premier McGuinty has acknowledged the fiscal challenges that Ontario municipalities are struggling with and he has made a strong commitment to addressing them within the broader context of reforming the “fiscal architecture” shared by the Federal, Provincial and Municipal orders of government. AMO supports these efforts and continues to call on the Provincial government to work with AMO to create a viable plan to restore fiscal sustainability for Ontario municipalities over a manageable period of time.

Highlights of interest to municipalities:

The general structure of the 2001 Act has been maintained which will assist municipalities in their work with the legislation.

Enhanced Powers 

  • Broad permissive powers in the following areas:
    • Governance structure within the municipality including local boards with some restrictions
    • Accountability and transparency of the municipality and its operations and those of its local boards
    • Financial management of the municipality and its local boards 
    • Public assets of the municipality acquired for the purpose of exercising its authority 
    • Economic, social and environmental well-being of the municipality
    • Health, safety and well-being of persons
    • Services and things that the municipality is authorized to provide under subsection (1)
    • Protection of persons and property, including consumer protection
    • Animals
    • Structures including fences and signs
    • Business licensing
  • The Spheres of Jurisdiction from the 2001 Act are also continued as is the rule related to those powers in two-tier situations; additional rules to deal with areas of new broad powers; 
  • Expanded power to delegate council authority  and duties with some restrictions; 
  • Enhanced powers of entry, abilities to levy fines and penalties. 
Accountability
  • Permissive authority to establish Codes of Conduct, an Integrity Commissioner, Ombudsman, Auditor General, and a Lobbyist Registrar; 
  • Clarity around provisions governing open meetings and when meeting can be in-camera;
  • Rules and investigation related to compliance with open meeting rules, including potential role for Provincial Ombudsman. 
Financial and Administrative
  • Greater flexibility to collect user fees on a full cost recovery basis and more capital works are eligible for local improvement charges;
  • Added tools for economic development and greater authority for  Business Improvement Areas (BIAs), Community Improvement Plans (CIPs);
  • No new tax  tools are proposed at this time although Administrative Monetary Penalties authority is provided;
  • Specific, rigid provisions for sale and disposition of land, procurement, notice, among other matters have been replaced with general requirements for municipalities to adopt their own policies in these areas.
Background: 

Minister Gerretsen first committed to reviewing the Municipal Act in June 2004 and has repeatedly stated that it is intended to come into effect in December 2006 or January 2007.

AMO promoted broader powers and greater flexibility for municipalities during the discussion with the Province leading up to the 2001 Act. We continued to promote this framework with Minister Gerretsen and developed in 2004 the following nine key principles in concert with staff Associations along with a series of recommendations. 
  1. Municipalities are responsible and accountable governments.
  2. New legislation shall enhance existing municipal powers.
  3. The Province shall stop micromanaging municipal governments. 
  4. Where there is a compelling provincial interest the province shall when regulating municipal government define at the outset that interest.
  5. Provincial legislation shall be drafted with the expectation of responsible municipal government behaviour and not as a remedial tool.
  6. Accountability means mutual respect between municipal government, the Province and other public agencies.
  7. Resources for municipal governments shall be sustainable and commensurate with the level of responsibility.
  8. The Municipal Act shall include principles that will protect the Municipal Act and municipal powers from all provincial legislation.
  9. The Province shall commit to increasing the understanding and awareness of municipal government within all ministries.
The courts and provincial governments across Canada have recognized the changing relationship between the provinces and their municipalities by recognizing that municipal powers should be interpreted broadly to confer broad authority on municipalities. AMO had suggested that the Municipal Act should recognize this new relationship and the Bill does that, providing for broad interpretation of municipal powers under the Municipal Act as well as any other Act, which is a key change.

We will review the Bill in detail, provide comments to the Province, and appear before Standing Committee after the Bill has received Second Reading. We encourage the Opposition Parties to give this Bill priority so that new councils at the end of the year can operate in a framework that is more reflective of the courts and the maturity of municipal government