Which government is responsible? Municipal vs Provincial vs Federal

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| Published , updated April 15, 2024

​​​The Constitution Act, 1867​, outlines the division of responsibilities between the federal Parliament and the provincial legislatures.

Responsibilities

Federal

  • Aboriginal Lands & Rights
  • Citizenship and Immigration
  • Criminal Law
  • Competition
  • Copyright
  • Employment Insurance
  • Foreign Policy
  • Income Taxes
  • Money and Banking (Bank of Canada)
  • National Defence/Military
  • National parks
  • Telecommunications and broadcasting (internet, phones & TV)
  • Trade and Commerce
  • Canada Post Office
  • Census

Departments and agencies

Provincial

  • Administration of Justice
  • Education (including colleges and universities)
  • Healthcare (primarily)
  • Long-Term Care
  • Highways
  • Hospitals
  • Labour standards
  • Natural Resources and Environment
  • Prisons
  • Property and Civil Rights in Ontario
  • Provincial parks
  • Sales tax
  • Social Services
  • Transportation

eg. Ministries of Ontario

Municipal

  • Airports
  • Ambulance
  • Animal Control
  • By-laws
  • Arts and Culture
  • Building Permits
  • Child Care
  • Economic Development
  • Fire Services
  • Garbage Collection and Recycling
  • Electric Utilities
  • Library Services
  • Long Term Care and Senior Housing
  • Local Road Maintenance
  • Museums
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Public Transit
  • Planning New Community Developments and Enhancing Existing Neighbourhoods
  • Police Services
  • Property Taxes/Assessments
  • Provincial Offences Administration
  • Public Health
  • Sidewalks
  • Street Trees
  • Snow Removal
  • Social Services
  • Social Housing
  • Storm Sewers
  • Tax Collection
  • Water and Waste Water (Sewage)

Or watch this rap-based educational video by TVO:

Definitions

Federal

The federal government has the power “to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Canada” except for subjects where the provinces are given exclusive powers. According to the Constitution Act, 1867, everything not mentioned as belonging to the provincial governments comes under the power of the federal government.

Provincial

The Provincial governments are responsible for issues that are explicitly given to them in Canada’s written constitution­ the Constitution Act, 1867.

The province directly funds or transfers money to institutions to ensure the delivery of these important responsibilities. The provincial legislature also has power over all municipal institutions in the province.

Municipal

The powers of municipal governments are determined solely by their provincial government. Municipal governments in Ontario are responsible for providing many of the services within their local boundaries.

Municipalities are entirely creatures of provincial statutes. Accordingly, they can only exercise those powers which are explicitly conferred upon them by a provincial statute.

Supreme Court of Canada – R. v. Greenbaum (1993), 14 M.P.L.R. (2d) 1 [at para. 20]

Section 92(8) of the Constitution Act, 1867 assigns to provinces exclusive legislative authority regarding “Municipal Institutions in the Province”. Municipalities incorporated under this authority therefore hold delegated provincial powers; like school boards or other creatures of provincial statute, they do not have independent constitutional status (Public School Boards’ Assn. of Alberta v. Alberta (Attorney General), 2000 SCC 45, [2000] 2 S.C.R. 409, at paras. 33‑34). The province has “absolute and unfettered legal power to do with them as it wills”

Supreme Court of Canada – Toronto (City) v. Ontario (Attorney General) (2021) 20 M.P.L.R (6th) 1

Federal and provincial overlapping responsibilities

There is some overlap between the federal and provincial levels of government, known as areas of concurrent jurisdiction. In certain areas, such as taxation, agriculture, old age pensions, and natural resource extraction, both levels of government can pass laws, though if there is a conflict, the dispute may be settled through the justice ​system.​

Shared responsibilities in Ontario

The following services are cost-shared between the federal, provincial and municipal governments in Ontario.

Cost-sharing is largest for health and social services, making the lines of accountability more opaque and questions about local input and autonomy most pronounced.

Public Health

The responsibility for public health, which includes sanitation, infectious diseases and related education, is shared between the three orders of government: federal, provincial/territorial and local or municipal. However, these services are generally delivered at the provincial/territorial and local levels.

Sources

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