Local Government Bylaw Adoption Process

A local government bylaw goes through three readings and then is adopted by the municipal council or regional district board. Sometimes a bylaw needs provincial or other approval before adoption. Provincial legislation outlines general requirements and timing—there may be additional requirements outlined in the local government's procedure bylaw.

Provincial legislation, including the Local Government Act and the Community Charter, outlines the general requirement and process for local governments to adopt and amend or repeal bylaws. In addition to these legislative requirements there may be process requirements established by the board or council that are specific to the local government, for example, that Robert's Rules of Order will apply to the proceedings of council or the board. These are outlined in the local government's procedure bylaw.

Legislative Requirements

Readings

A local government bylaw must receive three readings before it can proceed to final adoption. This process allows elected officials to provide input into the bylaw and make necessary changes before it is adopted. Each reading and adoption are typically decided by a majority vote of the council or board members present, unless another voting rule applies to the particular matter. Most local governments do all three readings at the same meeting however, if a bylaw is controversial or more research is needed, the readings may be done at separate meetings. Each reading is passed by a resolution.

The various “readings” are taken to mean:

  • First reading = tabling or introduction
  • Second = discussion in principle and on the content of the bylaw
  • Third reading = final discussion, including any changes made along the way

All bylaws must be read and adopted in a meeting that is open to the public. Changes can be made to a bylaw at any point during first, second or third reading. Once third reading is complete changes can still be made to the bylaw, however, third reading must be repealed and the bylaw read again a third time. Once a bylaw is adopted it may only be amended or repealed through a new bylaw. The process to amend or repeal a bylaw is specified in legislation.

Provincial & Other Approval

For some bylaws, there may be additional legislative requirements that must be met before they can be adopted by a council or board – for example:

  • A public hearing is required for some land use bylaws
  • If council is considering adopting a business regulation bylaw it must provide notice and the opportunity to make representations to council
  • Approval by the Inspector of Municipalities’ is required for loan authorization bylaws and regional district service establishing bylaws

For bylaws that require Inspector approval and/or local government consent or elector approval these approvals must come before adoption of the bylaw. If a bylaw requires both Inspector approval and approval of the electors, provincial approval must come before approval of the electors.

For land use bylaws that require a public hearing, the public hearing must be held after first reading and before third reading. Such land use bylaws include an official community plan bylaw, a zoning bylaw, a phased development agreement bylaw or early termination of a land use contract bylaw..

Adoption

For local government bylaws that do not require provincial or other approval, there must be at least one clear day between third reading and final adoption of a bylaw. This means that if the municipal council or regional district board held three readings on a Monday, the bylaw could not be adopted until Wednesday. There is no maximum limit on the time between third reading and final adoption.

There are a couple exceptions to this rule though. Regional district bylaws that do not require approval, consent or assent before adoption can be given three readings and adopted on the same day as long as two-thirds of the board members present at the meeting vote in favour of the adoption. Regional district security issuing bylaws are commonly adopted in this way.

Zoning bylaws can also be adopted at the same meeting as third reading. Many zoning and land-use bylaws require a public hearing after second reading before they can be adopted.

Once adopted, the bylaw must be signed by the member presiding at the meeting (typically the mayor or regional district chair) and the local government corporate officer.

Effective Date

Local government bylaws become effective on the date they are adopted, unless the bylaw specifies a later effective date. For example, a municipal council may wish to increase water rates for the following year and to give the administration time to prepare, council may adopt the bylaw in November and make it effective January 1 of the following year.

A bylaw cannot be made effective at a date earlier than its adoption - it is effective upon adoption or at a later date set by the bylaw. For example, if a municipal council or regional district board intends to begin a new service, with fees and penalties, on March 1, the bylaw must be adopted prior to that date.

Challenge Period

Following the adoption of most local government bylaws or the passing of a resolution, there is a month-long period when an individual may apply to the Supreme Court to set aside the bylaw or resolution if they believe the legislative requirements were not met (sometimes referred to as the 'quashing period'). An exception to this is security issuing bylaws, which have a 10-day quashing period.

As such, bylaws are generally not considered finalized until after this challenge period is over.

Bylaws may also be challenged outside the challenge period through a judicial review under the Judicial Review Procedure Act, for reasons such as failure to meet statutory requirements or rules of administrative fairness.

Procedure Bylaws

Local governments must, by bylaw, establish the general procedures to be followed by the municipal council or regional district board and their committees in conducting their business. This includes procedures for passing resolutions and adopting bylaws. These procedures must be followed by the local government in addition to the requirements outlined in the legislation.

Amending or Repealing Bylaws

Once a local government bylaw is adopted, it may only be amended or repealed by bylaw. Generally, bylaws to amend or repeal an existing bylaw are subject to the same approval and other requirements as the power to adopt a new bylaw under that authority. For example, if a council or regional district board wants to amend a zoning bylaw, a public hearing after second reading of the amendment or repeal bylaw would be needed.

An exception to the general rule for amendments and repeals is regional district establishing bylaws and loan authorization bylaws. The Local Government Act provides the option that the board may amend or repeal an establishing bylaw or loan authorization bylaw with at least two-thirds consent of the participants in the service.