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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, municipalities and 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. Waste Management Act; 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 Municipalities.

Service bylaws cover matters such as cost-sharing among participants, boundaries and operational cost limits. For most regional district services, such matters can be the subject of a service 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. zoning; 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 concurrent 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 Regulatory Best 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.


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