Intergovernmental Dispute Resolution

Tension and conflict are natural in most working relationships, including intergovernmental relationships. The Local Government Act and the Community Charter recognize this and provide for a principled, interest-based approach to trying to solve intergovernmental conflicts with minimum delay and cost.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative dispute resolution emphasizes interest-based negotiation to achieve solutions that are acceptable for everyone involved in a dispute. It encourages open communication, fosters understanding between the parties and improves long-term relationships. Solving disputes as early as possible will also help parties avoid stressful and costly arbitration or court action.

Alternative dispute resolution helps parties to resolve disputes collaboratively and:

  • Identify their interests
  • Explore options for resolution
  • Develop and implement solutions acceptable to all
  • Obtain the services of a neutral mediator, if needed

The the Local Government Act sets out the alternative dispute resolution process related to regional district and regional growth strategy disputes. Local governments can also find information about the alternative dispute resolution process related to inter-jurisdictional disputes in the Community Charter.

Any party to an inter-governmental dispute may apply for dispute resolution process assistance from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Please note that such assistance is not available for legal, labour or interpersonal disputes.

Regional District Service Dispute Resolution

Regional districts and their service partners are encouraged to review the terms and conditions of an existing service arrangement on a regular basis. Any service participant (municipality or an electoral area) may initiate a service review.

If agreement cannot be reached on acceptable terms and conditions for remaining in a service, participants may withdraw from an eligible regional district service subject to the establishment of fair terms and conditions for withdrawal. Local governments can:

  • Design innovative and sustainable service arrangements
  • Review how regional district services are provided
  • Withdraw from service arrangements, in some cases

Service Review Process

The needs and expectations of participants in a regional district service may evolve over time as local or regional circumstances change. Whether undertaken informally or initiated formally under the legislation the service review process is intended to provide an opportunity for participants to review the service to which they are contributing, discuss their needs and concerns and make changes to the service arrangement, if agreed to by participants.

There are three main types of service reviews:

Informal Service Reviews

Regional districts are encouraged to incorporate informal service review processes into their operations. Informal service reviews can be conducted at the discretion of the regional district board, can occur any time, and can be tailored to fit the needs and timelines of the participating members.

Statutory Service Reviews

This process is available to review those services where the service establishment bylaw does not include alternate service review guidelines. To initiate a service review, a participant must give written notice to the board, all other participants in the service and to the minister responsible for local government.

Bylaw-Based Service Reviews

A regional district board has the option to include an alternative review process in their service establishing bylaw. This is a bylaw-based service review. If a service establishing bylaw includes an alternative review process, this would take precedence over the statutory service review process available through the Local Government Act.

Learn more about service reviews:

Service Withdrawal Process

If parties to a dispute are unable to come to agreement on acceptable terms and conditions for remaining in a service following a service review, and the service is eligible for withdrawal, a participant may initiate the service withdrawal process.

To initiate a service withdrawal, a participant must give written notice to the board, all other participants in the service and to the minister responsible for local government. Withdrawal from a regional district service is subject to establishment of fair terms and conditions for withdrawal.

Upon receiving the written notice from a service participant initiating a service withdrawal, the minister responsible for local government will provide direction on next steps in the process, which may include:

  • Terminating the service withdrawal and directing the parties to engage in another service review
  • Directing the parties to engage in further negotiations respecting continued participation in the service or respecting the terms and conditions for withdrawal
  • Directing the parties to engage in mediation respecting the terms and conditions for withdrawal, or
  • Directing that the terms and conditions for withdrawal from the service be resolved by arbitration, which includes final proposal arbitration or full arbitration

If non-binding methods fail to resolve the dispute, regional district service withdrawal disputes must be settled using one of the binding arbitration methods (final proposal arbitration, or full arbitration). If a matter is directed to be resolved through arbitration, the legislation allows the parties to come to agreement on an acceptable resolution at any point during the arbitration process, or during a 60 day period after its conclusion.

Learn more about the service withdrawal process:

Regional Growth Strategies Dispute Resolution

The development of a regional growth strategy provides many opportunities for the regional district and affected local governments to meet their priorities and goals, address issues of common concern and ensure that all efforts are made to reach agreement. However, given differing planning priorities and interests among local governments, it is not uncommon for disputes to emerge.

The Local Government Act provides a process to help resolve disputes over acceptance of a regional growth strategy or disputes about regional context statements.

If member municipalities or adjoining regional districts are unable to reach agreement on an issue in a regional growth strategy proposed by a regional district, the minister will direct the parties to either a non-binding resolution process (mediation) or a binding settlement process (arbitration). Ministry staff are available to support and provide guidance to local governments throughout the dispute resolution process.

One of the underlying principles of the regional growth strategy legislation is that the planning process has to reach closure. Therefore, if a non-binding resolution process is unsuccessful, the regional growth strategy must be settled through one of the following options:

  • Peer panel settlement
  • Final proposal arbitration
  • Full arbitration

The proposing board and the affected local governments can reach agreement on the provisions of the regional growth strategies at any time before the settlement process is completed.

Learn more about the legislation behind regional growth strategy dispute resolution:

Learn more about regional growth strategies:

Interjurisdictional Dispute Resolution

Part 9, Division 3 of the Community Charter provides a process to help resolve disputes between:

  • Municipalities and other local governments
  • Municipalities and the provincial government
  • Municipalities and provincial crown corporations

Please note that Division 3 also applies to the City of Vancouver.

The minister responsible for local government has the authority to designate a dispute resolution officer to help address interjurisdictional disputes.

Any party to an interjurisdictional dispute may apply to the dispute resolution officer for assistance in resolving the dispute. The dispute resolution officer may help the parties resolve the matter by any process the officer considers appropriate. The dispute resolution officer must review the matter under dispute and may:

  • Attempt to help the parties to resolve the dispute, including by using or referring the matter to mediation or another non-binding resolution process, and
  • Assist the parties in determining how costs of the process are to be apportioned

If non-binding methods fail to resolve the dispute, certain disputes between or among local governments must be settled using one of the binding arbitration methods. Disputes subject to mandatory binding arbitration include those that relate to:

  • An intermunicipal boundary highway
  • An intermunicipal transecting highway
  • An intermunicipal bridge
  • An intermunicipal watercourse
  • A matter prescribed in an order by Cabinet

For all other disputes not subject to mandatory binding arbitration, if the parties to the dispute agree, the dispute resolution officer must direct the dispute to binding arbitration through a process of final proposal arbitration or full arbitration.

Learn more about interjurisdictional dispute resolution: