Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

The Organization of Municipal Councils in Ontario: A Research Note

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

The Organization of Municipal Councils in Ontario: A Research Note

Article excerpt


This research note reports findings from a recent survey of Ontario municipalities on the organization of municipal councils and council committees. The findings suggest that the current literature needs revision. Municipalities have and are experimenting with different forms of organization, the most frequently found form at present being that of standing committees working with a chief administrative officer as a senior manager.

Keywords: organization, municipal, councils, committees, Ontario, changes


Cet travail de recherche presente les conclusions d'un sondage sur l'organization des conseils municipal et les comites des conseils des municipalites ontariennes. Les resultats de recherche suggerent que la documentation courant a besoin de revision. Les municipalites ont et continuent toujours a experimenter avec differentes formes d'organisms; don't le comite permanent avec le directeur municipal travaillant comme gestionnaire superieur est le plus souvent utiliser a present.

Mots cles: l'organization, municipals, conseils, comites, Ontario, changes


There is only a very sparse literature on the organization of municipal councils and council committees in Canada. Even newer texts (e.g. Tindal and Tindal, 5th ed., 2000, 255-280; Graham, Phillips and Maslove, 1998, 100-52; Tindal, 2001,4559) rely largely on the descriptions and evidence provided in the seminal works of Crawford (1954, 77-177) and Plunkett (1968, 15-36). This research note helps, in a small way, to fill the gap. It reports survey evidence on the municipal council committee systems in Ontario in 2003. Its conclusions about committee organization suggest that the extant literature is radically out-of-date, at least in the Ontario context.

Current Knowledge

Crawford's Canadian Municipal Government was the first book length treatment of the law and organization of municipal government in Canada. Crawford distinguished between standing committees, which are chosen at the start of each council's term and have responsibility for recommending and implementing council decisions, and special purpose or ad hoc committees for particular issues as they arise. This latter sort of committee has no managerial responsibilities. If council prefers, it can dispense with committees and use one of three other systems for municipal purposes: city manager (chief administrative officer); city commissioner (two to four managers with functional responsibilities); or a board of control (an elected executive council with allied managerial functions). At the time Crawford was writing, every Ontario city with a population of more than 100,000 was required to have a board of control.

Tom Plunkett explicated and illustrated Crawford's classifications with Canada wide examples. His nomenclature differed somewhat; he referred to standing committees as council-committees (Plunkett, 1968, 15). In later work, he documented the spread of chief administrative officer positions, often in conjunction with council-committee arrangements. (Plunkett, 1992). Interestingly, an Ontario Government report published shortly after Plunkett's 1968 book discovered that three of Plunkett and Crawford's types of organizational arrangements were used in Ontario municipalities; the commissioner system was found not to be in use in this 1969 survey. (Hickey, 1973).

Very little new information has been developed in recent years apart from several case study illustrations found in recent texts. This paucity of information contrasts with literature and knowledge from other countries where structural variables, like the organizational arrangements of councils, are subject to continual inquiry (eg V. Ostrom, Bish, E. Ostrom, 1988,39-62; Clingermayer and Feiock, 2001; Mouritzen and Svara, 2002). We do not attempt to address such issues in this short, descriptive research note.

New Sources of Evidence

A 49 item survey was mailed to the clerks of Ontario municipalities (with populations exceeding 10, 000) in December 2002. …

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