Skip to content
You are here > Home > Other Resources > Frequently Asked Questions > Responsibilities of Municipal Councils

Link to Follow usFollow us

Responsibilities of Municipal Councils

Email this page

QUESTION

What can I do if my municipality is not enforcing its own by-law?

ANSWER

Your municipality decides how and when to enforce its own by-laws. If you are not satisfied with a municipality’s enforcement, you may wish to bring this matter to the attention of your locally-elected council representative or to make a submission to council. Should you not be satisfied with the resulting action, you may wish to share your concerns with others in the community or, to discuss with your solicitor the possibility of enforcing the by-law yourself.

QUESTION

I think one of my members of Council has a conflict of interest in a matter before council. Is there someone at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing who can investigate this?

ANSWER

Conflict of interest matters for council members are dealt with under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. A councillor must, among other things, declare at a council meeting certain pecuniary (financial) interests that he or she may have in any matter before council at that meeting. If a councillor fails to declare, any local elector may take the matter to court. The Ministry does not conduct investigations in this regard.

QUESTION

I think my council is acting inappropriately - what is the role of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing?

ANSWER

Council is elected and responsible for the decisions and actions it takes. Members must consider their legal duties, and at the same time remember they are accountable politically to the electorate including through the elections process.

The City of Toronto must have an Integrity Commissioner, Ombudsman, Auditor General and Lobbyist Registry. All other municipalities decide locally whether to appoint these integrity officers and offices.

Both the City of Toronto Act, 2006 and Municipal Act, 2001 provide that municipalities may appoint an investigator who, upon complaint, investigates whether the procedure by-law or the rules respecting meetings closed to the public have been complied with. If a municipality does not appoint such an investigator, the Provincial Ombudsman may undertake an investigation.

There are other accountability requirements municipalities must adhere to, such as establishing and maintaining policies on how they will try to ensure they are accountable to the public for their actions, on the manner in which they will try to ensure their actions are transparent to the public, and on the circumstances in which they will provide notice to the public.

The Ministry has a number of roles, including providing information about municipalities and their functions to anyone interested and undertaking policy development. However, primarily because council is accountable for its local decisions, it is not the practice of the Ministry to intervene in the affairs of a municipality.

QUESTION

I think my council has violated the open meeting provisions of the Municipal Act, 2001. What is the ministry going to do about it?

ANSWER

All meetings, including closed meetings, are subject to procedural rules. Municipalities may appoint an investigator who, upon the request of any person, investigates whether meeting rules with respect to a meeting that was closed to the public have been followed. If a local investigator is not appointed, the Ontario Ombudsman fills this role.

A municipality may close a meeting to the public if the subject matter being considered at the meeting is:

  • The security of the property of the municipality or local board;
  • Personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees;
  • A proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board;
  • Labour relations or employee negotiations;
  • Litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals, affecting the municipality or local board;
  • Advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose;
  • A matter in respect of which a council, board, committee or other body may hold a closed meeting under another Act.

In addition, meetings held solely for the purpose of educating or training members may be closed to the public.

There are two instances where a municipality must close a meeting to the public:

  • If the subject matter relates to the consideration of a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act if the council, board, commission or other body is the head of an institution for the purposes of that Act (Municipal Act, 2001, section 239(3) and the City of Toronto Act,2006, section 190(3)).
  • If the meeting or part of the meeting is to seek approval of the council on whether to disclose a record containing information concerning any hazards or risks to public safety, for the purposes of preparing a municipal emergency management program (Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, section 2.1(7)).

Except in the two cases mentioned above, nothing prevents a municipality from dealing with a matter in an open meeting even though the legislation allows the municipality to deal with that matter in a closed meeting if it wishes to.

(For more see information section 239 of the Municipal Act, 2001 and section 190 of the City of Toronto Act, 2006.)

The Ministry has a number of roles with respect to municipalities, including providing information about municipalities and undertaking policy development. However, primarily because council is accountable for its local decisions, it is not the practice of the Ministry to intervene in the affairs of a municipality.

QUESTION

I'm not happy with the way my municipality maintains our roads. What are the Ministry standards for winter maintenance? For summer maintenance?

ANSWER

The municipality has a statutory duty to keep its highways and bridges in a state of repair that is reasonable in the circumstances. It is up to each municipality to determine how it satisfies this duty, including establishing the appropriate winter and summer road maintenance standards. The Ministry of Transportation does, by regulation, establish minimum standards of repair for municipal highways and bridges which, if the municipality complies with, provides the municipality with a degree of protection from liability. However, it is not mandatory for the municipality to follow these standards.

QUESTION

Does the Province overturn decisions of my council?

ANSWER

Generally the Province does not overturn decisions of a council. In the limited circumstances where the Province may overturn council decisions, it is not the ordinary practice of the Province to do so, primarily, because council is a publicly-elected body which is directly accountable to its citizens for its local decisions.

QUESTION

How can a councillor be removed from office?

ANSWER

Generally, there is no process for removing a councillor (e.g. by a petition of electors or by the council) before the next election.

However, the office of a councillor may become vacant in a number of ways including by resignation, by being absent from meetings of council for three successive months without authorization, by disqualification (e.g. the councillor becomes a judge, ceases to be a resident, is serving a sentence of imprisonment in a penal or correctional institution or, is convicted of a corrupt practice under the Municipal Elections Act,1996 etc.).

Any elector entitled to vote at the election of a member of council may apply to court for a declaration that the office of the councillor has become vacant.

QUESTION

When does a vacant position on council have to be filled and what is the process?

ANSWER

The process for filling vacancies for local councils is contained in the Municipal Act, 2001, the City of Toronto Act, 2006 and Municipal Elections Act, 1996. If an office becomes vacant, council must declare the office vacant at the next council meeting (or at one of the next two meetings, if the vacancy occurs as a result of the death of a council member).

Councils have the choice to fill the vacancy by appointment or by holding a by-election. This decision must be made within 60 days after council declares the office vacant.

The Municipal Act, 2001 and the City of Toronto Act, 2006 require that a municipality fill all vacancies, however, when the vacancy occurs within 90 days of voting day in a regular election the vacancy does not have to be filled.

The Municipal Elections Act, 1996 states that no by-election can take place if a vacancy is declared after March 31 in the year of an election.

QUESTION

Who monitors municipalities?

ANSWER

Municipal councils are elected and ultimately responsible to their electorate for the decisions they make and the actions they take. It is a vigilant and knowledgeable public exercising their right to vote in a municipal election that best keeps councils in check ensuring a fair and effective democratic process. The police may also become involved in criminal matters.