Municipal regulatory powers

Municipalities are granted powers to regulate, prohibit or impose requirements in relation to people, property and activities. Under the Community Charter, municipalities have these powers within broadly defined areas or spheres of jurisdiction, and under other provincial legislation, municipalities have such powers for more specific topics.

Depending on the scope of the authority that has been granted, regulatory powers may allow a municipality to establish bylaws that restrict what people may do, prohibit some activities or require certain actions be taken.

All municipalities have specific powers to regulate in relation to land use activities, for example, zoning, alteration of heritage buildings, or development permits. Beyond land use, municipalities also have various specific powers in other areas such as the regulation of animals or business or the use of municipal roads.

Sometimes, regulatory powers are related to municipal services, such as setting rules for garbage collection and water conservation. In other cases, regulatory authorities can be exercised on their own, such as business licensing or land use regulation. In either case, regulatory authorities may only be exercised through municipal bylaws adopted by the municipal council. In certain cases, some form of provincial approval may also be required.

Regulatory spheres

Under the Community Charter, municipalities have flexible authority to exercise regulatory powers in relation to 16 spheres, such as public places, trees and animals. In most of these regulatory spheres, municipalities may exercise their authority autonomously. In four of them (the concurrent regulatory authority spheres, which include public health, protection of the natural environment, wildlife and prohibiting soil deposit and removal), municipal authority is subject to provincial involvement. That involvement may take the form of a regulation, an agreement or case-by-case approval, depending on the subject area and circumstances.

Municipalities may also regulate businesses by bylaw and may require businesses to obtain a business licence.

Accompanying authority and limitations

Along with the regulatory power itself, municipalities have authorities to make those rules effective – for example, by creating a system of licences, permits or approvals, by entering onto property to inspect whether rules and requirements are being met and by enforcing their regulatory bylaws through tickets and other means.

Because regulatory powers directly affect what people can or cannot do in their community, there are often requirements a municipality must meet before exercising its regulatory powers – for example, before adopting a business regulation bylaw, a municipal council must provide notice of its intention and an opportunity for persons affected to make representations to council.

The regulatory powers contained in the Community Charter are subject to specific conditions and limitations included in all provincial or federal statutes. Where a potential municipal regulatory bylaw overlaps with a provincial or federal jurisdiction, the other applicable legislation provides essential context for defining the regulation. In some cases, other legislation may exclude the municipality from regulating, while in other cases a regulation may be provided within the context of the other legislation.

Joint regulation

One or more municipalities may provide regulation jointly. Joint regulation may:

  • Provide a more consistent and predictable business-friendly regulatory environment
  • Ensure the regulatory system is efficient and effective

Inter-municipal regulation can be used for joint action on any matter for which municipalities have authority, such as:

  • A common regulation for business
  • Joint enforcement using a common ticketing bylaw
  • Sharing bylaw enforcement officers across municipal boundaries