General City Governance
( display item 4)
28-May-2010 by Belinda Cole 
In Canada, people make decisions about civic issues in different ways. Two very different models of citizen decision-making, for example, can be seen in the ways that the law governing Whitehorse and Toronto set out the powers that citizens have to make important decisions in their cities.
Whitehorse and other Yukon municipalities
Public participation is a cardinal principle in the Yukon Municipal Act. [Note: laws are changed periodically. To check to see if any changes have been made since this summary was written, see http://www.gov.yk.ca/legislation/legislation/page_m.html and http://www.gov.yk.ca/legislation/acts/municipal.pdf]
The Preamble (which tells people the principles upon which a law is based) includes the following statement:
"That public participation is fundamental to good local government;"
In 1998, when the Yukon enacted the new Municipal Act, the Yukon Government gave broad new powers to Yukon cities. And, in place of the former powers of supervision by the Yukon government, residents were given key voting powers through a referendum process.
By way of petition by 25% of the electorate or 2000 voters (the 25 % threshhold was lowered in 2003 to recognize the difficulty of garnering the support of 25 % of the electorate), citizens can submit a proposal on "any matter" of municipal governance except the operating and capital budget bylaws and the general property taxation bylaw. For example, the public can vote on capital projects, such as the building of a new community centre or facility.
In 2008, the Yukon Act underwent a substantial review. There was lots of discussion about possibly narrowing the range of subjects on which the public could vote. However, government members told the Assembly that there was strong public opposition to any exceptions to the public field of decision-making and the lawmakers agreed that the public voting provisions would not be whittled down.
The Preamble of the Yukon Municipal Act, which introduces the key principles behind the law is copied below:
CHAPTER 154 MUNICIPAL ACT [Yukon] Preamble
WHEREAS this Act was developed in a spirit of partnership, mutual respect, and trust between the Government of the Yukon and the Association of Yukon Communities;
AND WHEREAS it is desirable to establish a framework for local government which provides for the development of safe, healthy, and orderly communities founded on the following principles:
That the Government of the Yukon recognizes municipalities as a responsible and accountable level of government;
That Yukon municipal governments are created by the Government of the Yukon and are responsible and accountable to the citizens they serve and to the Government of the Yukon;
That the primary responsibilities of Yukon municipal governments are services to property and good government to their residents and taxpayers;
That public participation is fundamental to good local government;
That sustainable Yukon communities require financially solvent local governments that are responsive to the public’s need for affordable public services; and
That local governments have a significant responsibility for furthering compatible human activities and land uses.
The former Muncipal Act which governed Toronto underwent fundamental changes, resulting in The City of Toronto Act, which became law in 2007. As in the case of the the Yukon Municipal Act, the city of Toronto was given broad, sweeping new powers, with significantly reduced powers of supervision by the Province. The new Toronto Act, however, does not give Toronto residents the power to oversee and participate directly in governing their affairs. Instead, the law seeks to introduce accountability and transparency through measures such as the appointment of "Accountability Officers", including an Ombud, Auditor, Integrity Commissioner and Lobbying Registar.
The law required that a review of the Toronto Act be done in 2009, and again in 2012. In the course of the 2009 review, the Provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs emphasized that no fundamental changes to the Act would be considered in the 2009 review and citizen's input was sought through on-line comments to the Ministry web-site. [link to CELOS's submission to the Minister of Municipal Affairs?]
Unlike the cardinal principle of public participation in the Yukon law, the first statement in the City of Toronto Act underlines Toronto's cardinal role as an “economic engine” with the purpose of "creating and supporting economic prosperity" and "a high quality of life for people of Ontario".
The lawmakers recognize that the successful governing of the City requires the active participation of governments working together in a partnership based on respect, consultation and co-operation. There is no corresponding mention of the importance of, or need for, participation by citizens.
The law tells us that there are several purposes behind giving city council broad new powers. Toronto's city council is to determine what is in the "public interest" and to respond to the "needs of the City". The legislation does not mention how the public interest or needs are to be determined, nor is there any reference to residents' role in expressing or defining these. The new city government is to determine the appropriate structure for governing, and also, to ensure that the City is accountable to the public, and that decision-making is transparent.
Here is an excerpt of the Preamble to the City of Toronto Act. To ensure that this law is up-to-date, please see a copy of the regularly updated electronic version of the Act at http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_06c11_e.html
City of Toronto Act, 2006
The Assembly recognizes that the City of Toronto, as Ontario’s capital city, is an economic engine of Ontario and of Canada. The Assembly recognizes that the City plays an important role in creating and supporting economic prosperity and a high quality of life for the people of Ontario.
The Assembly recognizes that the success of the City requires the active participation of governments working together in a partnership based on respect, consultation and co-operation.
The Assembly recognizes the importance of providing the City with a legislative framework within which the City can build a strong, vibrant and sustainable city that is capable of thriving in the global economy.
The Assembly recognizes that the City is a government that is capable of exercising its powers in a responsible and accountable fashion.
The Assembly recognizes that it is in the interests of the Province that the City be given these powers.