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Governance &
Structure Division
 

Highlights of the Community Charter

 

The Community Charter (Bill 14, 2003), is the first local government legislation in Canada to establish a full set of principles for municipal-provincial relations.
 

The Community Charter changes local government legislation in three key areas: municipal-provincial relations, broad powers and accountability.
 

Principles

Part 1 of the Community Charter includes principles of municipal governance and principles of municipal-provincial relations.
 

Under these principles, the province formally recognizes municipalities and their councils as an order of government within their jurisdiction and the requirements of municipalities, including the need for adequate powers and authority.
 

Principles of municipal-provincial relations recognize that citizens of British Columbia are best served when there is mutual respect between municipalities and the provincial government and when each works cooperatively with the other on matters of mutual interest.
 

Municipal-Provincial Relations

Part 9of the Community Charter provides specific provisions related to governmental relations. The Community Charter requires provincial consultation prior to changes to a number of acts and regulations that are particularly relevant to municipalities, and also provides for consultation agreements between the provincial government and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities on any matter of mutual interest.
 

Part 9 also provides a resolution process for disputes between a municipality and another local government or the provincial government or its corporations. This process is largely dependent on non-binding dispute resolution processes, but binding arbitration is available where all parties to the dispute wish to use that method. Mandatory binding arbitration is also used to replace a provincial decision for disputes related to intermunicipal highways, bridges and watercourses.
 

See Dispute Resolution for more information.
 

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Broad powers

Part 2 of the Community Charter provides for fundamental municipal powers including natural person powers, the power to provide any service that the council considers necessary or desirable and the power to regulate and in some cases prohibit and/or impose requirements in relation to a number of broad areas or "spheres". Areas in which municipalities have autonomy to regulate, prohibit and impose requirements are:
  • municipal services;
  • public places;
  • trees;
  • firecrackers, fireworks and explosives;
  • bows and arrows, knives and other weapons;
  • cemeteries, crematoriums, columbariums and mausoleums and the interment or other disposition of the dead;
  • the health, safety or protection of persons or property in relation to a number of specific things, such as trailer courts, manufactured home parks, and matters within the scope of the Fire Services Act;
  • the protection and enhancement of the well-being of its community in relation to a number of specific matters, such as nuisances, refuse and unsanitary conditions;
  • animals, except for wildlife;
  • building and other structures, except standards that are, or could be dealt with by the Provincial building regulation; and
  • removal and deposit of soil or other material, except prohibitions itemized under the concurrent sphere.

Municipalities are also provided with powers to regulate businesses; to regulate and impose requirements for certain matters related to signs and other advertising devices; and to regulate and prohibit in relation to the discharge of firearms.
 

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The Community Charter recognizes that in some areas there are significant local and provincial interests. The legislation provides for concurrent authority, where municipalities may exercise the power if the municipal bylaw is in accordance with a provincial regulation or an agreement between the municipality and the province, or the bylaw has been approved by the province.
 

In recognizing both a local and provincial interest in these matters, the Community Charter ensures that municipalities have the authority they need to deal with the local interest while maintaining some coordination with the provincial government to ensure that matters of provincial interest are not compromised. Areas of concurrent authority are:

  • public health;
  • protection of the natural environment;
  • wildlife;
  • standards that are or could be dealt with by provincial building regulations; and
  • prohibition of soil removal or prohibition of the deposit of soil or other material making reference to the quality of the soil or material or to contamination.

See Concurrent Authority for more information.
 

Part 2 of the Community Charter augments fundamental municipal powers with a number of other general powers. These include the authority to:

  • provide services outside the municipality, with the consent of the hosting jurisdiction;
  • join with other municipalities to establish an intermunicipal service or regulatory scheme; and
  • provide for a system of licences, permits or approvals as part of a regulatory program.

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In addition, in Part 3 a number of specific powers outside of the fundamental powers are provided. Significant items in this category include:

  • a number of powers in relation to highways, including ownership of most local roads;
  • special powers in relation to dangerous dogs; and
  • powers to deal with hazardous conditions and declared nuisances.

As with any other statutory provision, the powers provided for in the Community Charter must be considered in the context of all other provincial and federal law. Additionally, Part 3 of the Community Charter provides some specific restrictions in relation to the powers provided. These restrictions generally take the form of limitations on the power or process requirements in relation to exercising the power.
 

For example, as a limitation on the natural person powers, there is a general prohibition against providing assistance to business unless it meets stated criteria.
 

Examples of a restriction on process include:

  • an elector assent requirement prior to the disposition of an operating water or sewer service; and
  • notice requirements prior to regulating businesses, or suspending or cancelling a business licence.

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Accountability

Part 4 of the Community Charter contains a number of public participation provisions. The Community Charter provides for an alternative approval process where electors may request that certain proposed municipal decisions be put to a vote prior to action by council. This process applies to a limited number of decisions, primarily those relating to long-term financial commitments. If at least 10 per cent of electors in the area affected request a vote, a municipality must hold a vote if it intends to proceed with the matter.
 

Most council and council committee meetings will continue to be open to the public. The Community Charter provides for the discussion of a number of matters in closed meetings. Included is authority to close a meeting for discussions relating to administrative tribunals, preparing annual municipal reports and preliminary negotiations respecting proposed municipal services.
 

See Open Meetings for more information.
 

The Community Charter provides for public access to the minutes of open meetings, along with a number of other municipal records, but at the heart of the accountability framework are provisions for an annual municipal report and a public meeting to present this report.
 

The annual report provides financial and operational information related to the municipality. In addition to such standard financial information as audited financial statements and disclosure of the value of permissive tax exemptions, the municipality must report on its services and operations and the progress made during the year in relation to previously set objectives.
 

The report is also forward looking in that it sets out future year objectives and the measures that will be used in determining progress towards those objectives.  Citizens have the opportunity to provide submissions and ask questions of council during a council or other public meeting in which council considers the annual report.
 

See Annual Municipal Report and Annual Municipal Meeting for more information.
 

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The accountability framework under the Community Charter is rounded out by ethical conduct provisions for elected officials. The Community Charter sets out restrictions on:

  • participation in council decisions if a member of council is in conflict;
  • using the member's office to influence a decision of an officer, employee or delegate if the member has a financial interest in the decision;
  • using the member's office to influence decisions made by another body or person if the member has a financial interest in the decision;
  • using confidential information gained in office to further the member's or former member's financial interest; and
  • accepting fees, gifts, or personal benefits that are connected with the performance of their duties of office.

Exceptions to this last restriction of accepting gifts include authorized compensation, campaign contributions and gifts that are received incidental to the protocol or social obligations that normally accompany the responsibilities of office. Any such latter benefits worth more than $250 must be disclosed.
 

The Community Charter also requires dislosure of contracts between a council member or recent former member and the municipality.
 

See Ethical Conduct for more information.
 

Please direct questions or comments to Advisory Services Branch
 

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