To modernize municipal legislation, the Province of Ontario is proposing key changes that would grant municipalities a higher degree of autonomy through amendments to the Municipal Act (MA), the City of Toronto Act (CoTA) and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCoIA). These acts, which outline the legislative, administrative, and financial responsibilities of Ontarian municipalities, are subject to a mandatory five-year review through the Modernizing Ontario's Municipal Legislation Act (MOMLA) that could bring significant changes to the way municipalities in the Province govern themselves. 

Motivated by a series of public consultations held during between June and October 2015, the proposed amendments are intended make Ontario municipalities more accountable, sustainable, and responsive to urban concerns.

Queen's Park, image by Marcus Mitanis Queen's Park, image by Marcus Mitanis

Motivated by the need to modernize municipal government and legislation, the Province is proposing to allow members of council and local boards to attend public meetings through electronic means, so long as this presence does not count towards the necessary quorum. Additionally, as part of Premier Wynne's platform on gender equality, municipal officials would no longer risk destitution due to vacancy experienced as a result of parental leave, a benefit that extends to parents who are not physically birthing their children.

In order to increase government transparency, the Modernizing Ontario's Municipal Legislation Act would require municipalities to establish codes of conduct for members of council and local boards. Integrity commissioners across the Province would be granted expanded powers to tackle violations to each municipalities Code of Conduct, as well as the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. The latter would be amended to increase fines for individuals who contravene its stipulations. An updated definition of what a 'meeting' constitutes would provide clearer rules for municipal officials and members of the public, erasing ambiguities present with the current understanding of the concept and ensuring a higher degree of transparency.

With the intention of encouraging financial sustainability, the Province plans to broaden the investment power of municipalities, enabling them to invest through standards of risk-reduction and maximization of benefits, thereby assisting the financing of municipal infrastructure. Under the proposed changes, municipalities would also be given the power to initiate tax sales of properties after a shortened period of two years. These changes, although beneficial for the increased financial autonomy granted to Ontarian cities, fall short of providing the latter with advanced taxing and revenue platforms that numerous municipal officials and activists have argued for in the past.

Additionally, the Province is also seeking to increase the responsiveness and flexibility of municipal service delivery. If passed, the Modernizing Ontario's Municipal Legislation Act would allow cities to legislate on the topic of climate change through by-laws that engage cities in long-term environmental and energy planning. Such a motion could empower cities to envision measures for greenhouse gas reduction, increasing waste diversions, and ensuring the resilience and sustainability of public infrastructure.

For municipalities under the jurisdiction of regional councils, the Province is proposing that the heads of such bodies be elected by popular vote, a move that seeks to increase civic engagement and democratic representation. Furthermore, the composition of regional councils would be set for review every second election starting in 2018.

As Toronto grows, greater political autonomy is becoming more critical, image byAs Toronto grows, greater political autonomy is becoming more critical, image by UT Forum contributor yonderbeam

The Modernizing Ontario's Municipal Legislation Act emerges from significant pressure exerted by various municipal officials from throughout the Province over the last decade. Last fall, Toronto City Council proposed a series of amendments to the City of Toronto Act to be submitted to the Province. Although many items from the City's recommendation are present in the MOMLA, a notable exception is a provision that would allow the City to exclude itself from the jurisdiction of the Ontario Municipal Board. The City has long argued that its elected officials should hold the ultimate decision-making power on the approval of development proposal, as opposed to a provincial body composed of non-elected members. 

As the Act moves through the Provincial legislative process, it will be interesting to see how Members of Provincial Parliament react to local pressures and thus propose amendments to the MOMLA. If adequately formulated, the Act could give municipalities the power to overcome rigid and outdated Provincial power dynamics and regain financial autonomy to better tackle local concerns.

We will continue to inform you of the development of the Modernizing Ontario's Municipal Legislation Act as it progresses through Provincial Parliament. How do you feel this Act could benefit municipalities in Ontario? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.