Local Government Legislative Framework

Last updated on December 3, 2019

Legislation empowers, guides, limits and affects local governments. The Community Charter and the Local Government Act define the core authority of local governments and guide decision-making. The City of Vancouver is served by its own legislation, the Vancouver Charter.

Community Charter

The Community Charter provides the statutory framework for all municipalities in B.C. except the City of Vancouver. The Community Charter sets out municipalities' core areas of authority, including:

  • Broad powers (for example, municipal services, public health regulation and entering into agreements)
  • Property taxation
  • Financial management
  • Procedures (for example, adopting bylaws)
  • Bylaw enforcement

The Community Charter’s broad powers include fundamental municipal powers:

  • Corporate (“natural person”) powers
  • Service powers
  • Regulatory powers
  • Specific powers (for example, expropriation)

To balance the broad powers provided to local governments, the Community Charter contains accountability and public participation provisions, such as:

  • Elector approval processes
  • Annual municipal reporting
  • Ethical conduct rules for elected officials

The Community Charter also addresses municipal-provincial relations, with principles, consultation requirements and dispute resolution processes.

Other legislation makes certain provisions of the Community Charter also apply to regional districts, the City of Vancouver and other local bodies such as the Islands Trust. This is especially the case for accountability provisions. For example, the Vancouver Charter, Local Government Act and the Islands Trust Act make the Community Charter's ethical conduct rules apply to City of Vancouver council members, regional district directors and trustees of the Islands Trust.

Local Government Act

The Local Government Act is the primary legislation for regional districts and improvement districts, setting out the framework for structure and operations, as well as the main powers and responsibilities. Certain municipal provisions of the Local Government Act also apply to municipalities for matters not covered by the Community Charter (for example, municipal tax sales).

The Local Government Act also covers important authorities for both municipalities and regional districts, such as planning and land use powers and statutory requirements for administering elections. Other key election rules, such as campaign financing rules that apply to local elections and assent voting are set out in the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act and regulations.

Local Government Act Revision

In 2015, the Local Government Act was revised with a new organizational layout and numbering as part of statute revision, an editorial process that does not make substantive changes to the legal effect of a statute. This revision improves the readability and accessibility of the Act. The Act also has two tables of concordance, which are lists that connect sections from the pre-revision Local Government Act to the corresponding sections in the revised Act, to help readers navigate the 2015 revisions.

Vancouver Charter

The City of Vancouver is served by its own legislation, the Vancouver Charter. While the Vancouver Charter makes specified provisions of the Community Charter and the Local Government Act apply to Vancouver, most other local government legislation provisions do not apply to the city. The Vancouver Charter provides for the continuation, structure and operation of the City of Vancouver and sets out its main powers and responsibilities, including elections, public works, real property taxation and land use planning. Many of these powers parallel those of other municipalities, while some are quite different.

Municipal & Provincial Concurrent Authority

In addition to broad powers, the Community Charter empowers municipalities to adopt bylaws in five separate spheres of concurrent authority in which authority to make laws is shared with the provincial government.

Letters Patent

Local governments are incorporated by the provincial government by letters patent, a specialized form of order-in-council adopted by the Lieutenant Governor on advice of the provincial cabinet.