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Bulletin No. 57, May 2005
May, 2005 -
Local Government Bulletin No. 57, May 2005
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 website is: http://www.localgovernment.ca
In this bulletin:
1. Alberta agreement on a New Deal
2. Court orders election finance audit in Hamilton
3. A peak at Toronto Act negotiations
4. Social inclusion as a local issue
5. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. Alberta Agreement on a New Deal
The second federal/provincial New Deal agreement has been signed, with Alberta, on May 14. The press release reflects the fact that municipalities aren’t quite legitimate forms of government, noting that the signing by federal and provincial representatives was “witnessed” by the heads of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties, the Metis Settlements General Councils, and the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary.
The agreement commits $476.9 million to be paid by the federal government from the gas tax over the next five years, to be spent in four areas: public transit, community energy, water and waste water management, and solid waste. Communities with a population under 500,000 (everything except Edmonton and Calgary) can also spend the money on roads, bridges, tunnels and bike lanes.
The amount being transferred averages $30 per capita per year over the life of the agreement, starting for the first three years at around $20 per capita, and rising by year five to almost $60 per capita. The promise is that funding will then continue after year five at an amount no less than that received in year five. Funds are distributed to municipalities by a formula based almost entirely on population. The breakdown of amounts by municipality for each of the five years can be found at http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200505/18029E1446B32-6C20-4E67-A0A01DF40A2D595C.html .
The arrangement is very similar to the British Columbia agreement reported in Bulletin No. 56, although that Bulletin stated, in error, that the transfer amounted to $60 per capita, when it should have said $30 per capita. One can assume that agreements with the remaining provinces will generally follow the pattern established in Alberta and British Columbia.
2. Court orders election finance audits in Hamilton
An Ontario judge has ordered Hamilton City Council to undertaken an audit of the election contributions of Mayor Larry Di Ianni. This follows a lengthy court process (reported in previous Bulletins) following the request by Joanna Chapman for council to do such an audit, and her subsequent application to court.
The Ontario Municipal Elections Act sets out a procedure to follow when citizens feel there have been irregularities regarding election contributions and expenditures: they must ask the council - on which the very persons being challenged may sit - to undertake an audit of the financial filings. Chapman alleged many irregularities in the mayor’s filings (and in other filings), but council refused to undertake an audit.
Judge Timothy Culver considered the standard that city council should use in making a decision about whether it should undertake an audit, and concluded, after citing several cases, that the standard was not whether the behaviour complained of was “patently unreasonable.” He concluded the complainant did not have to make a prima facie case of wrongdoing, or provide “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” The standard Council must apply, he ruled, is “whether the elector has reasonable grounds to believe that a candidate has contravened a provision of The Act relating to campaign finances, ” and that would be based on a “practical, non-technical and common sense probability as to the existence of the facts and inferences asserted.”
The judge rejected the idea that the private audit undertaken on behalf of Mayor Di Ianni would be a satisfactory remedy, noting that many of Chapman’s allegations of irregularities had been confirmed in that private audit. Mayor Di Ianni’s lawyers have admitted that the Mayor has already refunded almost $20,000 in donations that would have contravened the Act.
Audits of the returns of two other candidates for council were also ordered by the court.
Mr. Justice Culver’s decision can be found at http://environmenthamilton.org/CATCH/pdfs/Culver%20decision%20on%20compliance%20audit%20appeal.pdf .
As Council undertakes the audits, Chapman has laid charges against 18 corporations for making improper contributions to the mayor’s campaign in 2003. These charges are proceeding by way of private prosecution, and will come before the court on July 5.
3. A peak at Toronto Act negotiations
On May 18, a Staff Progress Report was released by Ontario and Toronto officials on the discussions about a new City of Toronto Act which have been taking place in private since last September. The timetable agreed to apparently calls for public consultation in Spring 2005 (although maybe we’ve passed that date) with legislation being drafted in the summer and introduced this Fall.
The Report is disappointingly thin – a total of 10 pages containing many generalities. It sets out two bland conclusions which many assumed were beginning premises. One is that the new Act would replace the welter of existing legislation under which the city now functions, The second is stated this way:
“The modernized City of Toronto Act should fundamentally change the way Ontario empowers Toronto. The new City of Toronto Act should start from the premise that Toronto can exercise broad permissive governmental powers within its jurisdiction, subject only to specific exceptions in the provincial interest.”
The Report provides a bit of flesh to this second conclusion, stating “The broad permissive approach would provide Toronto with governmental powers within its territorial jurisdiction and with respect to city powers.” This is qualified further when it is noted that “Toronto would remain subject to certain provincial requirements, even when exercising its powers with respect to local matters. In addition, certain policy domains and corresponding provincial legislation would likely be excluded from the purview of the city government.”
Apparently there’s no intention to give the city really broad legislative powers, such as permitting the city to take actions which `meet or beat’ provincial and federal laws or regulations as decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Hudson case a few years ago, permitting municipalities to regulate pesticides. That and the `dual compliance’ test laid out by the Supreme Court of Canada, were the legislative approaches suggested as reasonable for the city in Bulletin No. 56.
The Report also sets out `principles’ that continue to be under discussion – principles of city government, of intergovernmental relations, city purposes and council accountability. Sadly, this section of the Report feels a lot like a first year first term political science essay about the nature of good government.
The text of the Report is available on the Ontario government web site, http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/userfiles/HTML/nts_1_24207_1.html . It does not appear to be included in the City of Toronto web site, www.toronto.ca .
It’s hard not to see this as a giant missed opportunity – both in bottling up public discussion for nine months, and in not coming up with anything more than some broad generalities. This Report is further reason for city hall watchers in Toronto to believe that mid-point in its term, with an election eighteen months away, this might be characterized as the council of missed opportunities.
4. Social inclusion as a local issue.
There’s hardly a better window into Canadian communities than the recent reports prepared under the auspices of Inclusive Cities Canada. ICC partnered with social planning organizations in St. John, Toronto, Burlington, Edmonton and Vancouver/North Vancouver to look at issues of social inclusion and the extent to which these five communities were serving the many households with distinct languages and customs that family members operate within as they adjust to their new lives in Canada.
Two points become clear in reviewing the studies for each community. First, the unmet needs are significant and not difficult to appreciate or understand. Second, apart from issues which are driving recent immigrants into poverty (such as a lack of affordable housing or affordable child care), there are many steps which could be taken to begin including these households more into community life, steps which do not involve large sums of money, only a sense of political will.
One example comes from the report on Toronto: extend municipal voting to all residents regardless of citizenship. There’s no clearer way to begin to include people than to allow them to vote for their local representatives, the ones who are responsible for the parks they play in, the transit they ride, the schools their children attend. Given the current low voting turnout for most municipal elections, it is entirely possible non-citizen voters could have useful influence on the priorities of local government.
The five reports are all specific to their own milieu, and range widely over a range of subjects. They provide insight and challenges for communities of all sizes. They can be accessed at the ICC site, http://www.inclusivecities.ca , and click on `Current Developments.’
5. Subscribe to the Bulletin
The bulletin is sent monthly, at no cost, to about 1500 individuals involved directly or indirectly in local government in Canada. Those who receive this Bulletin directly (not forwarded by a third party) are already part of the subscription list. Others who wish to subscribe should go to http://www.localgovernment.ca and follow the instructions. To unsubscribe, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org indicating your wish to unsubscribe.
More information about the sponsors of the bulletin, a library of relevant and useful documents, and an archive 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. Our next Bulletin will be in June.
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