25 Years of Local Government Statutes: The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

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As Stewart McDannold Stuart celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, we thought it might be interesting to take a look back at the “evolution” of local government legislation. In 1988, our founding partner Galt Wilson had a paper bound version of the Municipal Act R.S.B.C. 1979, c. 290 on his desk, published by the Queen’s Printer.  It was one slim volume and contained 998 sections. Galt diligently annotated his copy, taping in copies of amendments as they were adopted, underlining important sections, and writing in the names of notable cases. We still have and regularly refer to a number of Galt’s old editions of the Municipal Act.

Twenty five years later, there are two main acts: the Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 323, and the Community Charter, S.B.C. 2003, c. 26. The LGA goes up to section 1040 although this is a bit misleading as a number of sections were repealed in 2004 when the Community Charter came into force. The Community Charter is 291 sections long with a Schedule of definitions. All in all, we carry heavier briefcases these days.

This is a bit surprising when one of the main ideas of the Community Charter was to streamline the legislation through the use of “broad powers”; this was in contrast to the detailed prescriptive powers of the earlier legislation. Despite the broad powers concept, Part 3 of the Community Charter sets out additional powers and limits on powers so that the idea of “prescription” is not entirely lost and adds to the weight of the Community Charter. Also, the original idea was that eventually the LGA would be integrated with the Community Charter. Obviously this has yet to happen heading toward ten years later.

A few years ago at the annual UBCM conference, an announcement was made to the effect that at least the Regional District Part of the LGA was going to be amended or consolidated. This has yet to materialize. Regional Districts do not have the “natural person powers” given to municipalities under the Community Charter.

Anyone who reads this legislation regularly will agree that whether looking at a matter involving a municipality or regional district, both Acts will often come into play. Never leave the office without both Acts in hand!

Twenty-five years ago, there were clerks and treasurers rather than corporate and financial officers. There were grants-in-aid rather than “assistance”. A municipality could regulate the weight of bread and offer bounties for the destruction of “beasts and birds of a noxious or destructive character”.  Today municipalities enjoy “broad powers” (subject to certain limitations!) rather than having a shopping list of limited powers. At the end of the day it is open to debate how far things have actually advanced.