The bulletin is prepared by John Sewell, the site manager, with the assistance and under the guidance of the advisory committee. It is published monthly, and is being sent to a wide range of people across Canada. Past copies of the bulletin will be archived in this section of the site.
Bulletin No. 20, October 2001
LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT BULLETIN - NO. 20, October 2001
The purpose of this bulletin is to focus debate on the need to increase
local self government in Canada and to help local communities achieve more
autonomy. The local self government web site is http://www.localselfgovt.org
In this issue:
1. New Municipal Act for Ontario
2. Municipalities and free trade agreements
3. No more mergers in Quebec, and no luck in the courts
4. Anti-terrorism and security
5. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. New Municipal Act for Ontario.
On October 17 the Ontario government introduced the long-awaited new
Municipal Act, Bill 111. A draft bill had been circulated in 1998, but it
had been widely criticized (see Bulletin 10), and the new bill was prepared
after limited consultations.
But this bill is still far from what anyone wants. Many will see this as a
step back, putting municipalities much more under the thumb of provincial
authorities than they currently are.
Minister of Municipal Affairs Chris Hodgson says the new law gives
municipalities broader authority to deliver services, but that doesn't seem
true. The bill defines the general powers as `spheres of jurisdiction' in
which municipalities will be able to exercise the powers of a natural
person - that is, they will have more flexibility. Yet these powers (such as
roads, waste management, public utilities) are tightly controlled by the
province. This bill itself sets out 77 pages of legislative controls, and
that doesn't include the regulations the province will pass at a later date.
And the functions not included in the list - provincial staff lamely state
that these powers are assigned to municipalities in other legislation - is
astounding. Housing is not included even though the province has downloaded
all housing responsibilities. Land use planning is not included, nor is
child care, welfare support, or any other social service now administered by
municipalities. Policing is not included, and the included areas of public
health and protection of the natural environment are narrow. For example, a
municipality is not allowed to preserve a woodlot unless it is at least one
hectare in size. There is no provision allowing municipalities to control
The effect of these changes is to strip municipalities of authority over
policy areas critical to good government.
Municipalities also lose their ability to levy property taxes the way they
see fit. The bill incorporates provincial rules which prohibit a place like
Toronto from levying a property tax increase on anything but single family
The most damaging sections - the most serious intrusions on municipalities -
are buried in the middle of the bill. Sections 299 - 303 state the minister
can, by regulation, require any municipality or any municipal board,
committee, or agency, to meet objectives and standards about `efficiency and
effectiveness' determined by the minister. The minister is given the power
to cut any payments of any kind made by the province to any municipality if
he is unhappy with the way a municipality is responding to his standards.
Alternatively he can demand the return of any money already paid
These new accountability sections apply to everything a municipality is
involved in, and appears to be the same power the government tried to obtain
earlier this year in Bill 46, the Public Sector Accountability Bill, which
did not proceed past second reading. Many believe these are the sections the
government will use to force municipalities to privatize services. Mr.
Hodgson has justified these provisions by saying that the new flexibility
had to be accompanied by more accountability.
In terms of provincial/municipal relations, the bill contains a single
provision - section 3, which reads, `The province of Ontario endorses the
principle of ongoing consultation between the province and municipalities in
relation to matters of mutual interests.' There's no commitment to talk
before acting, no commitment to treat municipalities like adults. The
comparison with recent legislation in British Columbia (see Bulletin 19) is
Bill 111 is 365 pages long, and this is the first time it has been made
public. Nevertheless, the ministers staff recently stated, `The Minister
thinks the time for consultations is over.' Public hearings will not likely
be permitted - the bill and all its legislative detail will simply be pushed
through the Assembly within the next six weeks.
The notion that local authorities are an independent and legitimate form of
government has no validity at Queens Park even though most provinces in
Canada now adopt that position. This legislation is a big step backward for
2. Municipalities and free trade.
More and more municipalities are concerned about their role under the
General Agreement on Trade in Services, sponsored by the World Trade
Organization, that is now being finalized in national negotiations. To date
more than fifty municipal councils including Vancouver, Victoria, St. John'
s, Sherbrooke, Windsor, and Red Deer, have passed motions asking that `local
governments and authorities' be excluded from these trade agreements. A
similar motion carried at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities
convention in May.
The GATS agreement contains a commitment that the federal government will
ensure that all other governments act in conformity with the agreement. Many
municipal leaders fear that will mean that they lose control over land use
decisions (since international retailers would claim land use regulations
interfere with their decision-making) or that public/private partnerships
will provide footholds for private companies to argue that all public
services should be made available for private bids. (See Bulletin 15 for a
report on the Metalclad case.)
The current issue of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' publication
`Forum' contains an article on the issue by Murray Dobbin, who has written
on the subject for the National Post and the Financial Post. Dobbins notes
that one good example of the trepidation municipalities face because of
trade agreements is the recent cancellation by the Greater Vancouver
Regional District (GVRD) of a $400-million public-private partnership in a
water filtration plant.
`Free trade agreements, especially the services agreement,' writes Dobbin,
`are supposed to liberalize the economy and facilitate privatization. But in
the GVRD case, the privatization scheme was cancelled precisely because of
public anxiety about losing control of their water system through trade
agreement challenges. Private water corporations have already reached
for trade deals to circumvent government action.'
These issues are fully explored in a paper by Ellen Gould written for the
Union of British Columbia Municipalities, `International Trade and
Investment Agreements: a primer for local government.' It can be accessed
Dobbin's articles in the National Post and the Financial Post can be
accessed by going to http://www.nationalpost.com, and putting `Dobbin' in
the 60 day search tool. FCM's Forum is not yet available electronically.
3. No more mergers in Quebec, and no luck in the courts
On September 27, at a meeting with the Federation of Quebec Municipalities,
Minister of Municipal Affairs Mme Louise Harel announced there will be no
more forced mergers. That's the good news, although it was announced after
the most significant amalgamations in Quebec have already been legilsated.
The bad news is that the arguments by numerous Montreal area municipalities
against the merger there found no favour with the Quebec appeal court. The
issue will now go before the Supreme Court of Canada where an application
for leave to appeal will be made. It is expected to be heard before the end
of the year, akthough perhaps after the Montreal megacity elections have
4. Anti-terrorism and security
Security is one issue which has not been high on the agenda of local
governments - that is, until September 11, and now it seems the news is
about nothing else. And in the name of security, the federal government is
declaring war, supporting the American and British military forays, and
rushing anti-terrorist legislation through Parliament. Some municipalities
(such as Toronto) have established wish-lists for more police hardware and
personnel to make us `more secure.'
Canadian municipalities are not unfamiliar with questions of security. We've
been told by American tourists for decades how safe and secure our large
cities are, how they can safely walk the streets (which they can't do at
home), they can ride the transit system at any time day or night in comfort
and security (which they don't do at home), they can take in the nightlife
without fearing for their safety when returning to their hotel.
And in the scheme of things our large cities are secure. Murder rates are
many times lower than a place like New York, maybe fifteen times lower than
cities in the American south-west. Violent crime stats are way lower than
most American jurisdictions, too. Obviously, our city governments are doing
the right kind of things when it comes to safety and security.
Generally, municipal actions which have led to this feeling of security have
had nothing to do with increased police or military presence. Security in
cities is about making a good transit system with a large and varied enough
ridership that there's safety in numbers, and creating the opportunity of
experiencing different cultures and languages and ages first hand - and
realizing they offer no threats. It means supporting communities with an
array of community and social programs in schools, community centres,
libraries, and places of worship so people feel included, not excluded. It
includes making our school system friendly to kids whose families speak a
language other than English at home, and building enough affordable housing
that families have a home in which they can feel settled and secure.
Canadian cities have rejected the American approach. We have not let
everyone have guns - in fact we have severely restricted their possession.
We have not established and relied on video cameras at every turn to make us
safe. We have not assumed that police helicopters in the sky will make us
more secure. We have not decided that armed guards on every corner will
But with the threats that have followed September 11, too many political
leaders seem to have forgotten these lessons. They seem to be rushing into
the approach to security that American cities have used so unsuccessfully
for the past few decades. They seem ready to let policing and military
organizations make the decisions about security when it most cases those are
the last places one might go to learn how a community can be more secure.
It's as though they have learned nothing about why our cities have been
successful. They seem ready to starve cities of the funds they need to
strengthen communities, while using that money to increase police power.
Perhaps local elected representatives should be speaking up for the kind of
safety and security they know works, and against approaches which empower
the police but not the community.
5. Subscribe to this bulletin
The bulletin is edited by Joh Sewell in Toronto and sent, at no cost, to
about 1400 individuals involved directly or indirectly in local government
in Canada. The next bulletin will be available in November. We invite you to
subscribe by going to the 'Bulletin' tab of the web site
http://www.localselfgovt.org and following the instructions. More
information about the sponsors of the bulletin, a library of relevant and
useful documents, and an archives of past bulletins, can be found on our web
site. We appreciate your comments, your feedback (to
email@example.com ), and items of interest that you wish to share with us
and others who visit the web site.