Bill 25 Gives Regional Districts Procedural Protection Enjoyed by Municipalities

By passing Bill 25 – “Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2012”, the Legislature will put regional districts on par with municipalities in several important procedural areas. The Bill has had third reading and the changes it makes to the Local Government Act (“LGA”) will come into force when the Bill receives Royal Assent.

The Bill creates a new offence that prohibits anyone from interfering with, hindering, or obstructing a Regional District officer or employee when exercising his or her powers, duties, or functions. As with the similar offence under the Community Charter, the new section of the LGA is a provincial offence that must be prosecuted by the Provincial Crown under the Offence Act, rather than by a regional district through a bylaw enforcement mechanism.

Bill 25 also adds as section 6.51 of the LGA a provision which states that if a regional district is required by a statute to give notice, or to mail, send or deliver a notice, the obligation is satisfied if the regional district made a “reasonable effort” to mail or deliver the notice. The practical effect of the new provision is unclear -for example, what will constitute “reasonable efforts”. The equivalent provision in the Community Charter (section 160) has never been judicially considered. Some of the provisions of the LGA that require the mailing or delivery of notice (for example, the mailing or delivery of a notice of public hearing under Part 26) already state that the notice requirement will be fulfilled if the regional district makes “reasonable efforts”. The new “reasonable efforts” provision may possibly assist where a regional district has encountered difficulty with service of a remedial action requirement under section 77 of the Community Charter, although reliance on this type of provision should always be a last resort. Where municipalities encounter difficulty in providing notice, section 161 of the Community Charter provides general authority to apply for an order for substituted service. Regional districts do not have an equivalent remedy under the legislation except in the limited circumstances where the LGA provides for this – for example, under section 544, where notice of proposed drainage works must be given to the owner of lands affected.

Bill 25 also gives regional districts the ability to adopt bylaws that provide for public access to their records. The access provided in the bylaw is in addition to public access via requests under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and does not apply to any records that must not be disclosed under that Act.

Additionally, the Bill gives regional district boards the ability to seek the opinion of the electors on any question the board believes affects the regional district. This is similar to the existing authority of a municipal council to seek community opinion under section 83 of the Community Charter. The board can seek the opinion through a vote or “other process”. This power can only be used to seek the opinion of the electors of the entire Regional District, rather than within a single electoral area. The ability to seek the opinion of the electors is separate from regional districts’ existing power to hold a referendum on a question regarding a regional district service under section 797.3 of the LGA.

The only change to the LGA that Bill 25 makes that does not involve giving powers to regional districts already enjoyed by municipalities is a change to the procedure for appointing alternate electoral area directors. The Bill states that an electoral area director must appoint an alternate within 60 days of being elected, or the office of an existing alternate becoming vacant. If an electoral area director fails to do so, the Board must appoint the alternate instead. Previously, the legislation did not impose any time limits for the appointment of an alternate director.