Municipal Corporate Powers

In order for municipalities to operate efficiently, they must be able to exercise certain fundamental powers to operate as a legal body and to interact with others.

Corporate Powers in Legislation

In B.C., local government corporate powers are broadly stated in provincial legislation and are similar for both municipalities and regional districts.

The corporate powers for municipalities are described in section 8 of the Community Charter as being "natural person powers." Municipalities have the same rights, powers and privileges of a "natural person of full capacity". For example, municipalities may enter into legal agreements, buy and dispose of land, hire and manage employees, and take or be subject to legal actions. These are typically referred to as "corporate powers" and are enabled through the Community Charter.

Regional district corporate powers are set out in section 263 of the Local Government Act.

Limitations & Requirements

While municipal corporate powers are broad, some limitations and requirements apply. These are both general requirements – such as municipal purposes which include providing for stewardship of the public assets of the community – as well as more specific requirements. For example, while a municipality may sell a parcel of land it owns, it must first publish notice of its intentions because it owns the land on behalf of the community. Another example of limitation on corporate powers is, that although a municipality may create any officer and staff positions it chooses, it must create the positions of corporate officer and financial officer to ensure appropriate corporate and financial administration of the municipality.

In some cases, a power that might typically be considered a corporate power – such as authority to borrow money – can only be exercised if the power is specifically found in legislation and subject to a number of accountability requirements. For example, if the term of borrowing is longer than five years, the municipality must typically seek approval of their electors and must obtain approval of the Inspector of Municipalities because the costs may be borne by the residents and taxpayers of the municipality over a long period.

Agreements

Agreements are used by municipalities for many purposes. For example, they may:

  • Contract a company to provide garbage collection
  • Lease photocopiers and other equipment
  • Obtain statutory right of ways for sewer lines located on private land
  • Sign employment contracts with staff

Partnering Agreement

A municipality may make a partnering agreement with an external entity (for example, a public authority, business, society or person) where the external entity agrees to provide a municipal service on the municipality's behalf.

Assistance

Examples of assistance include providing a grant, benefit, advantage or other form of assistance, such as an exemption from a fee and, if specifically authorized, an exemption from property tax.

There are a variety of reasons why a municipality would provide assistance to a charitable organization. For example, it might provide grants to theatre groups, galleries, or symphonies to encourage a vibrant arts community. It might also provide a tax exemption to an organization that provides social relief to citizens in need. A municipal council must give advance notice of its intention to provide certain forms of assistance to a person or organization.

A municipality generally must not provide assistance to businesses. However, it may promote them through a business improvement area or, if applicable, a resort association or it may provide certain property tax exemptions that are specifically permitted under legislation – for example, a revitalization tax exemption or a tax exemption under a partnering agreement. Learn more about: