Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Coping with Canadian Federalism: The Case of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Coping with Canadian Federalism: The Case of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Article excerpt

In the mid-1960s, John Meisel and Vincent Lemieux studied the Canadian Federation of Mayors and Municipalities (CFMM) as part of the research completed for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. (1) They examined how CFMM was coping with tensions in the Canadian federation and concluded it was not coping well, largely because it was failing to accommodate growing nationalism in Quebec. Today, criticisms of what is now the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) would more likely relate to a newer tension in the Canadian federation: that arising from the growing importance of the largest cities. This article discusses what happened between then and now, and concludes that while CFMM-FCM did not adapt well in the 1960s and 1970s, it has managed in the last two decades to play a constructive and increasingly successful role.

Municipal governments in Canada and their associations

There were 3,726 municipal governments in Canada in March 2005, down from about 4,400 in 1997 (mainly because of amalgamations in Ontario and Quebec), and from about 4,600 at the end of the 1960s. The structure and average size of municipalities vary widely from province to province, reflecting history and geography and the different ways provincial governments have exercised their constitutional control over local governments.

In most Canadian provinces, municipalities have a large degree of autonomous responsibility for such "hard" local services as water and sewage services, garbage collection and disposal, and roads. Larger municipalities and many smaller ones are also responsible for fire protection, policing, recreational activities, licensing and inspecting, planning and zoning, public transit, and a range of community amenities. Municipal responsibility for social programs and services varies from province to province.

The prime revenue source for municipal governments in Canada is the property tax. Other locally-generated revenue comes mainly from licences, fees, and user charges. Conditional and unconditional grants by provincial governments, the second largest source of municipal revenues, are declining in relative importance in most provinces with the progressive disentanglement of provincial-municipal responsibilities. In recent years some provincial governments have engaged in explicit sharing of what had been provincial revenue sources, such as gasoline and hotel taxes.

As Canada has urbanized (or, more precisely, "suburbanized'), and especially since the mid-1960s, provincial governments have changed local government structures from the forms originally established for more rural societies. Restructuring initially involved establishment of upper-tier regional or metropolitan governments for urban areas, particularly in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. In the last two provinces, a more recent trend has been creation of large single-tier municipalities, with the present cities of Toronto and Ottawa being conspicuous among many examples. (2) Elsewhere, single-tier local governments have remained the norm, while adaptations have been made to the traditional two-tier county systems in more rural areas.

Since 1990, several provincial governments have undertaken legislative changes to provide greater autonomy for municipalities, allowing action on local matters without specific provincial authorization. In spite of these moves towards more municipal autonomy--which followed fifty years of growing municipal dependence on provincial governments--local government in Canada remains heavily dependent on the legislative, program policy, and financing decisions of provincial governments. All provincial governments have ministries primarily devoted to municipal affairs with responsibility for overall municipal legislation and the conduct of relations with municipalities, and most provinces have programs that directly affect municipal activity.

For several decades each province has had at least one municipal association whose main objective has been to advance the interests of its membership with the provincial government and agencies. …

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