Editorial: Municipal lame ducks

Several articles have been published recently in the NRT involving “lame ducks” – specifically whether Deep River council should delegate authority to the chief administrative officer prior to the upcoming municipal election in case it gets caught in the “lame duck” situation.

My concern is not how council decides to proceed, but rather that it is placed in this predicament at all. The problem is the Ontario Municipal Act.

The Act contains Section 275 entitled “Restricted Acts After Nomination Day.” (It does not actually use the term “lame duck.”) Here are the rules in a nutshell: The outgoing council shall not take any restricted action after it has been determined that the new council will include less than three-quarters of the members of the outgoing council, with that determination made either after nomination day (July 27) if insufficient members run for re-election, or after voting day (October 22) if insufficient members are re-elected.

The restricted period extends until the new council takes office (December 3).

The restricted acts are the appointment or dismissal of any municipal officer (clerk, treasurer, etc.), the addition or termination of any employee, and the sale of any property or approval of any expenditure or liability exceeding $50,000, unless it was included in the approved budget. Council can delegate restricted-act authority to any person or body (without restriction) or declare an emergency (without defining what constitutes an emergency) and proceed with a restricted act itself.

The whole of Section 275 is rather arbitrary. Why is council suddenly declared incompetent to govern based solely on the number of returning members? Why is an unelected delegate declared more competent than our elected council? What is magical about the three-quarters returning-member limit for the new council when the decisions in question involve the current council? Why is a fixed $50,000 limit applied to all municipalities regardless of their population or annual budget?

Deep River council currently has seven members. Both Reeve Doncaster and Councillor Desrochers are running for reeve in the upcoming election – one of whom will not be returning. This means that if just one other current member does not run for re-election, Deep River council will be in the lame-duck situation as of July 27. This seems very likely to occur.

Since the delegation of authority or the declaration of an emergency is the prerogative of the current council (without any restrictions whatsoever specified in the Act), then why do we need Section 275 at all? It creates extra headaches for the outgoing council while providing nothing of value to residents in return.

It’s time that Ontario revises the Municipal Act by removing the unnecessary “Restricted Acts After Nomination Day” requirement and allowing elected municipal councils to govern unimpeded through to the end of their mandate.

BW