Principles of Provincial-Local Government Relations
The underlying principles of the relationship between the provincial government and municipalities and regional districts (local governments) recognize the importance of local autonomy and promote collaborative, mutually beneficial outcomes.
The Local Government Act and Community Charter recognize B.C's local governments collectively as an independent, autonomous and accountable order of government within their jurisdiction. Both statutes include provisions that reflect the following five underlying principles.
Local autonomy balanced with public accountability
B.C's local governments have broad and permissive statutory powers that allow them to meet the needs of their communities with limited provincial government oversight and intervention.
In place of provincial oversight, there is a public accountability framework that ensures local governments are accountable to their citizens and communities. These requirements such as electors’ approval for specific local government actions, ethical standards for elected officials and core documents must be publicly available and various reporting requirements. For example, under the Community Charter, municipalities must publish an annual report that includes objectives for the upcoming year and progress reports on previous years' objectives. After its publication, municipalities must hold an annual public meeting to receive input from the public about the report. Learn more about:
To exercise their broad powers, local governments require access to financial resources. Prior to the Second World War, local governments and the provincial government sometimes disagreed about who was responsible for delivering and paying for certain services. For example, local governments used their own revenue sources (primarily property taxes) to provide social assistance to the unemployed, but this approach became untenable as unemployment increased during the Depression.
In the decades after the Second World War, B.C. went through a period of public service "disentanglement" to ensure that the level of government (provincial or local) that delivered a service could also pay for that service primarily out of its own revenue sources. By the 1990s, this process was largely complete.
Local government jurisdiction now focuses on delivering and paying for local services (for example, sewage, parks and garbage disposal) and the provincial government is responsible for services that require equitable distribution across the province (for example, health services, post-secondary education and social welfare).
While there can never be complete separation between provincial and local jurisdiction in the delivery of certain services (for example, protection of public health, protection of the natural environment, development and land use regulation), it is generally accepted that authority for a service should be accompanied by adequate revenue-generating authorities to pay for the services provided.
The underlying principle of consultation recognizes that policies, programs and the provincial-local government relationship work best when the interests of those affected by provincial government decisions are well-understood and well considered.
Consultation was enshrined as a principle in local government legislation in 1998, but it has been important throughout the history of the relationship between local and provincial governments. Historically, consultation took place on an informal basis, and in the early 1990s, the Union of B.C.Municipalities and the provincial government agreed on protocols of recognition that included an acknowledgement of the importance of consultation.
Collaborative relationships and institutions, such as the Municipal Finance Authority, provide support on matters where local governments can achieve more by acting collectively. The provincial government has a key role in enabling:
- Intergovernmental collaboration through legislation, such as statutory authority for inter-local government agreements
- Tools for collaboration, such as support for alternative dispute resolution processes
- Funding, such as financial support for the establishment of collaborative institutions (for example, CivicInfo BC, and the Local Government Leadership Academy)
B.C.'s local governments are diverse. For example, the needs of a rural municipality of 5,000 people may be quite different from those of an urban municipality with a population of 100,000. To accommodate this diversity, the local government system enables customization to meet individual communities' needs.
Most local government services are provided by choice, not by legislated requirement. For example, regional districts are federations of their member municipalities and electoral (rural) areas (and in some cases Treaty First Nations), and it is these members who decide the specific configuration of services that their regional district will provide. Similarly, municipalities have very few required services and are empowered to provide any services they consider necessary or desirable for their communities.
Legislated principles and consultation requirements
Many of the underlying principles of provincial-local government relations form the basis of legislated principles in the Community Charter and the Local Government Act. While legislated principles are not legal requirements, they reflect a shared understanding between governments about what is important to effective and sustainable provincial-local government relations. For example, principles in the Community Charter include:
- Mutual respect between the provincial government and municipalities of each other’s’ authority
- No assignment of responsibilities to municipalities without provision for resources required to fulfill the responsibilities
- Consultation is needed on matters of mutual interest
- Balancing municipal authority with the responsibility of the provincial government to consider the interests of the citizens of B.C.
- Generally various forms of dispute resolution are preferred as the way for the provincial government and municipalities to attempt to resolve conflict between them.
In addition to recognizing consultation as a key principle, the Community Charter requires consultation on certain key matters that affect local governments. The provincial government must consult with the Union of B.C. Municipalities before proposing the amendment or repeal of core local government legislation including the Community Charter and the Local Government Act, or reducing the amount of revenue transfers under the Local Government Grants Act.