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Petitions

A petition may be a verbal or a written request to someone in authority, in this case the municipal council.
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1. Public Meetings

A petition may be a verbal or a written request to someone in authority, in this case the municipal council. The request may focus on a variety of issues, ranging from community enhancements to municipal bylaws to discontinuation of certain policies.

From time to time, a petition may reflect a public view regarding a proposed or current policy; however it does not bind council to a specific course of action. For example, citizens may petition council to consider improvements to a park or to a road, or it may register its opposition to a proposed curfew bylaw.

This type of petition is not addressed within The Municipalities Act or The Cities Act. The intent of this form of petition is to communicate public opinion to council on behalf of those citizens who choose to sign the document. 

Municipalities and cities are accountable to the people who elect them and they are responsible for encouraging and enabling public participation in the governance process.  An accountable, responsive council will consider the petition and will make a decision which, in its view, satisfies the public interest.

Both statutes specifically address petitions regarding selected items.  For the purposes of this information, "the Act" will refer to either The Municipalities Act or The Cities Act where the information is common.  In addition, "municipality" will include cities as well as other urban and rural municipalities.

Public Meeting

Citizens may petition their council to hold a public meeting of municipal voters to discuss any municipal matter. 

Minimum number of petitioners required:

  • In cities, voters representing at least five per cent of the population
  • In resort villages, voters representing at least eight per cent of the voters
  • In other municipalities, whichever is greater:
    • 20 voters, or
    • voters representing at least five per cent of the population

The municipal administrator / city clerk has sole responsibility for determining the sufficiency of a petition.

The format of a petition for a public meeting is not described in the Act.  Petition organizers are encouraged to consult with their municipal office to determine if the municipality has defined minimum requirements. If none have been set, consideration should be given to utilizing the same format as a petition for referendum, which is explained below.

If the municipality has, as a result of a previous petition, conducted a public meeting of the voters, the council may refuse to receive any further petition on the same or similar subject within one year after the date of the public meeting.

The mayor or reeve of the municipality is required to call a public meeting which is to be held within 30 days after council receives a valid petition. Council is required to provide public notice of the meeting in accordance with its public notice policy.

Opening Street or Road 
In municipalities other than cities, a person or a group of persons may petition council to open a street or road. The Municipalities Act does not establish minimum requirements for this petition, therefore the petitioner or person acting on behalf of the petitioners may wish to contact the municipal office to determine the minimum requirements for the matter to be considered by council.  Council is provided sole authority with respect to the opening of a road or street within the municipality.  In certain circumstances, council may require the petitioner to pay all or a portion of the costs associated with opening the road or street.

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2. Referendums

A referendum is the submission of a proposed public measure which will be outlined within a municipal bylaw or a resolution to a vote of municipal electors.  A referendum may be initiated by council, or citizens may petition council to place a municipal matter before the voters. The Act refers to a non-binding referendum as a plebiscite, whereas a referendum binds the municipal council to a specific course of action and therefore the rules regarding petitions for a referendum are explicitly set out in the Act.

Minimum number of petitioners required:

  • In cities, voters representing at least 10 per cent of the population
  • In other municipalities, whichever is greater:
  • 25 voters, or 
  • voters representing at least 15 per cent of the population

The subject matter of the referendum must be within the jurisdiction of council pursuant the Act and not subject to other legislation such as The Local Improvements Act. As well, the subject matter cannot involve the adoption of an operating budget or a capital budget, or the authorization of the municipal tax levy.  For example, a referendum regarding upgrades to the water treatment plant may be considered as part of the capital budget and therefore beyond the reach of a referendum petition, whereas citizens might petition for a referendum to pass a new bylaw respecting management of the waterworks system.

Petition organizers are advised to adhere to the technical requirements of a petition for referendum.  

  • Each page of the petition shall contain the same statement of purpose and a statement which indicates that each petitioner, by signing the petition, attests that he or she is a voter of the municipality and has not previously signed the petition.
  • In addition to his or her signature, each petitioner will include his or printed surname and given names or initials.
  • Each petitioner must include his or her civic or legal description of land on which his or her status as a voter is based.
  • The petition must indicate the date on which the petitioner signed the petition.
  • The signature of each petitioner must be witnessed by an adult person who will sign opposite the petitioner's signature.
  • The petition must be accompanied by a signed statement of a person stating that the person is the representative of the petitioners, the date on which the first signature was collected and that the municipality may direct any inquiries about the petition to the representative. No signature collected before the date indicated on the representatives' statement for the first signature, shall be included in the petition.
  • The petition must be filed with the administrator/clerk within 90 days after obtain the first petitioner's signature.

In the event any of the above requirements are overlooked, the municipality may reject the petition for technical failure.

A sample petition, along with the representative's statement, can be found in the Citizen's Guide to Shaping Council Decisions.

The municipal administrator / city clerk is solely responsible for determining the sufficiency or validity of a petition for a referendum within 30 days after the date on which it was filed. Names may not be added to or removed from the petition after it has been filed with the administrator / clerk.  In determining the sufficiency of the petition, the administrator / clerk is required to exclude the names of any petitioners which fail to meet the technical requirements.  The administrator / clerk may use random statistical sampling to validate the petition.

Council is required to take certain steps in a timely fashion to submit the proposed bylaw or resolution to the voters if the administrator / clerk reports the petition for the referendum is sufficient.  

  • In the case of a rural municipality, the vote will be held prior to the end of the year if the petition is filed on or before July 1st. If the petition is filed after July 1st, council shall submit the matter to the voters at the annual election held the following year.
  • In the case of a resort village, the vote will be held within 9 months after the petition was filed. If the petition is filed on or before March 1st of the year in which a general election is being held, the vote shall be held before the end of the year.
  • In the case of other municipalities, the vote will be held within 9 months after the petition was filed. If the petition is filed on or before July 1st of the year in which a general election is being held, the vote shall be held before the end of the year.

The wording of the draft bylaw or resolution is to be finalized at least 8 weeks before the vote. Within 30 days of the administrator's / clerk's report as to the sufficiency of the petition, the council may apply to the Court of Queen's Bench for direction if the wording of the petition is unclear, if there are two or more conflicting petitions or for any other reason where the court's direction might be required.  The petitioners' representative or representatives are to be provided notice that the court's direction is being sought and any order the court makes regarding the petition shall govern the referendum vote which will be conducted, as nearly as possible, in accordance with Part V of The Local Government Election Act. A referendum in a rural municipality will be undertaken in accordance with Part VIII.

The referendum vote is decided by the majority of those voters who cast ballots.  If the majority approves the proposed bylaw or resolution, council shall pass the bylaw or resolution at the first meeting following the vote. The bylaw or resolution will remain in effect for at least 3 years. Within that time period, council may amend or repeal the bylaw or resolution only if it holds another vote or the action is necessary to avert an imminent danger to the health or safety of municipal residents. After three years, council must provide a minimum of 21 days notice to the public that it intends to amend or repeal the bylaw or resolution.

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3. Financial and Management Audits

Financial or management audits are different from the annual financial statement audit which is intended to determine if the municipality’s financial statements are prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. In so doing, the auditor is also required by the Act to report any impropriety found during the course of the audit and report to the mayor/reeve of the municipality with a copy to the Minister. Auditors use their professional discretion in determining the materiality of any items mentioned in the management letter. 

A financial audit is an audit which identifies:

  • instances of fraud, theft, or other financial misappropriation;
  • improper or unauthorized transactions;
  • non-compliance with provincial or federal statutes;
  • non-compliance with municipal bylaws.

A management audit is an audit to:

  • review the performance and operations of a municipality to evaluate whether its operations are undertaken economically, efficiently and effectively;
  • investigate and identify issues related to the policy, organization, operation or administration of the municipality; and
  • propose appropriate solutions to any issues identified during the course of the audit. 

To be deemed sufficient, a petition for a financial or management audit must be signed by voters representing at least one-third of the population of the municipality. Within 30 days after the date on which it is filed, the administrator must inform council if the petition for a financial or management audit is or is not sufficient. 

Upon receipt of a sufficient petition for a financial or management audit, council must engage the services of an auditor to conduct the audit within 180 days from the date the petition is received by council. The auditor cannot be the auditor appointed to undertake the municipality’s annual financial audit. Council is required to work with the auditor to define the scope of the audit, and to co-operate with the auditor during the audit. The audit must be conducted in accordance with the guidelines and standards as recommended from time to time by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada. The municipality is responsible for all costs of the audit.

Within 30 days of receiving the auditor’s report, the municipality shall publicize a notice municipal office and in a newspaper circulating within the municipality that the report is available to the public by mail or personal delivery to any person that requests a copy. The exception to this is where misconduct is identified. In this situation, the auditor will send the report to the Deputy Minister of Justice and the municipality cannot make the report public. In the case of a municipality other than a city, voters of a municipality may petition council to undertake a financial or management audit of:

  • the municipality;
  • a council committee or other body established by the council; or
  • a controlled corporation established by council.

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