Services and Regulatory Powers
Local governments are able to provide many different services to their communities, to
specific areas of the community, or event to specific individuals. In addition, they have
the ability to regulate or set rules to limit certain activities.
Virtually all local bodies, not just local governments, provide some
form of service – from library boards that govern public libraries
to community organizations that operate
heritage sites and improvement districts that supply water. Local authorities are
typically also provided with some authority to set rules in relation
to the services they provide – whether it be setting the price of
the service; limiting the amount of the service, or restricting how
that service may be used.
Under the Community Charter and
the Local Government Act,
regional districts have broad authority to provide any
service that their respective council or board considers necessary or desirable.
That could be “hard” services such as water, sewer or garbage
disposal or “soft” services such as recreation, child care and economic development.
Those services may be provided directly by the local government or through
another person or organization (e.g. jointly with another local
government; through a partnering agreement with a private or
non-profit partner). In providing services, local governments may
themselves be subject to other provincial rules (e.g.
Drinking Water Protection Act).
Services may be provided both inside or outside the area of the
local government. While most municipal services are provided within
the municipality throughout the whole of that area, some services
may be provided just for the benefit of certain areas of the
municipality and therefore are paid for by persons in those areas
(e.g. a local service area for sewers
or a business improvement area).
In regional districts, most services
are provided on the basis of custom-designed sub-areas (service areas) of the
regional district and are paid for by the persons in those areas (whether the service
area comprises just electoral (unorganized) areas, a number of
municipalities or parts of them, or a combination of both). Regional
districts establish most such services through service bylaws,
approved by participants in the service and by the Inspector of
Service bylaws cover matters such as cost-sharing
among participants, boundaries and operational cost limits. For most
district services, such matters can be the subject of a
review if participants are unhappy with the arrangements.
Since January 1, 2004, all municipalities provide the “service” of
highways, as they have not only operation and control of most
highways within their boundaries, but also ownership of those roads.
That provides municipalities with more control over municipal
highways (e.g. the authority to
close a dead-end road and sell the
land to an adjacent land owner without first seeking authority from
the provincial government).
Depending on the scope of the authority that has been granted,
regulatory powers may allow a local government to establish bylaws
that restrict what people may do, that prohibit some activities, or
that require certain actions. All local governments have specific
powers to regulate in relation to land use activities (e.g.
alteration of heritage buildings; development permits). Some land
use regulatory powers are also provided to the Islands Trust which
in the trust area (southern Gulf Islands) generally has the same authority for land use as a
regional district. Beyond land use, local governments also have
various specific powers to regulate in other subject areas (e.g.
regulation of commercial vehicles by municipalities; dog control by
regional districts; business regulation by the City of Vancouver).
Under the Community Charter, municipalities have more flexible
authority to exercise regulatory powers in 16 broadly-worded spheres
of jurisdiction or regulatory spheres (e.g. public places; trees;
animals). In most of these spheres, municipalities may exercise
their authority autonomously; in five of them (the
regulatory authority spheres, including public health, protection of
the natural environment and building standards), municipal authority
is subject to provincial involvement. That involvement may take the
form of a regulation, an agreement or a case-by-case approval,
depending on the subject area and circumstances.
A partnership of local government, business and provincial
representatives guided the development of a
Practices Guide, to assist local governments in determining whether
the exercise of regulatory authority is the best solution to a
particular community issue, and if so, to assist them in choosing
the regulatory approach.