Ontario Municipality Mandatory Minimums: Transparency and Accountability

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| Updated June 14, 2023

Ontario’s Municipality Compliance Checklist and Feature Best Practices

The following municipal transparency and accountability features are helpful and beneficial for everyone, no matter what local issues you’re interested in, whether it’s climate change, housing crisis, property tax changes or garbage collection, or what side of the issue you’re on.

These services increase public confidence in government decisions and help constituents, all levels of government and the media:

  • Access information
  • Engage democratically
  • Follow government decision-making
  • Enhance evidence-based decision making

Municipalities must prioritize transparency and accountability

The Municipal Act states that it is the role of Council is to ensure the accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management of the municipality, among other things.

In addition, the Municipal Act requires municipalities to adopt and maintain a policy regarding how it will try to ensure that it is accountable to the public for its actions, and the ways in which it will try to ensure that its actions are transparent to the public. The purpose of this policy is to provide guidance to the municipality when developing and providing activities and services.

Example transparency and accountability pages & policies

Here are some examples of Transparency and Accountability policies of Ontario municipalities:

Why is transparency and accountability important?

Efficiencies

A service delivery review for Chatham-Kent by KPMG found that navigating the Municipality’s website to find information is a challenge for some citizens. This results in citizens contacting their member of Council or customer service for support.

Accountability

A judicial inquiry of on transactions in Collingwood found that between 2010 and 2014, Paul Bonwick, the brother of then-mayor Sandra Cooper earned more than $1 million for his involvement in deals made by Collingwood city council – almost half of what the town of about 22,000 paid in salaries in 2012 for its full-time staff.

The two deals were:

  • Sale of a 50% share of the town’s electrical utility to PowerStream (now Alectra), despite the town receiving a much higher bid from another potential buyer.
  • Award a contract to expand recreational facilities to one builder without considering other bids.

The report contains 306 recommendations relating to best practices in municipal governance.

In 2017, the Town of Collingwood requested that staff investigate existing practices and explore new opportunities to enhance accountability and transparency initiatives and programs, and ensuring good governance.

In response to Bill 68 (2017) to “modernize” the Municipal Act, the Town of Collingwood undertook an Accountability and Transparency review which resulted in a 2-part staff report: Part 1 and Part 2, which recommended:

  • Live-streaming all Council and Standing Committee meetings
  • Public database of recorded votes
  • Enhanced community outreach
  • Lobbyist registry
  • In-house legal counsel
  • Municipal Ombudsman
  • Municipal Auditor General

Municipalities are required to have

Open council meetings

Section 239 of the Municipal Act states that all council meetings must be open to the public, unless one of the limited number of exceptions apply that allow it to be closed.

Freedom of Information request process

Conflict of Interest Registry

Personal Information Bank Index (PIB)

A Personal Information Bank Index

Complaint mechanism

Bids and tenders

Council expense reports

Section 284 of the Municipal Act requires that the Chief Financial Officer/City Treasurer report to Council an itemized statement on the remuneration and expenses for Members of Council on or before March 31 of the following year. 

Policies

Section 270 requires municipalities to adopt and maintain policies with respect to the following matters:

  1. Selling and transferring land
  2. Hiring employees
    • The relationship between members of council and the officers and employees of the municipality.
  3. Buying goods and services.
  4. The circumstances in which the municipality shall provide notice to the public and, if notice is to be provided, the form, manner and times notice shall be given.
  5. The manner in which the municipality will try to ensure that it is accountable to the public for its actions, and the manner in which the municipality will try to ensure that its actions are transparent to the public.
  6. The delegation of its powers and duties.
  7. The manner in which the municipality will protect and enhance the tree canopy and natural vegetation in the municipality.
  8. Pregnancy leaves and parental leaves of members of council. 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 113; 2017, c. 10, Sched. 1, s. 32.

Code of Conduct

Bill 68 requires all municipalities to develop codes of conduct.

Municipalities may choose to have

The following features, while not explicitly required by provincial legislation, are key

Online voting for elections

Website

Council meeting video on-demand archives

Integrity commissioner

responsibilities of a Commissioner?

Municipal Ombudsman

investigate, in an independent manner, any decision or
C2018-14 Accountability & Transparency Part 2 Page 8 of 8
recommendation made, or act done or omitted, in the course of the administration of the
municipality, its local boards and such municipally-controlled corporations as the municipality
may specify and affecting any person or body of persons in his, her or its personal capacity.
This accountability tool was put in place prior to the provincial changes to the Ontario
Ombudsman’s Office, which now includes oversight for municipalities, as well as universities,
schools and hospitals.
The only municipality that has an appointed Municipal Ombudsman is the City of Toronto,
(Susan Opler, Ombudsman) as it is a mandated position.

Municipal Auditor General

The Municipal Act also grants the municipality the discretion to appoint an Auditor General who
reports to Council and is responsible for assisting the Council in holding itself and its
administrators accountable for the quality of stewardship over public funds and for achievement
of value for money in municipal operations.
Currently our external municipal auditors (Collins Barrow) provide regular reviews of financial
matters and internal operation controls. They provide feedback to staff and Council on various
vulnerabilities, and are encouraged to comment on matters of ethical and financial resources or
limitations of the municipality.
The following are the municipalities that have an appointed municipal auditor general:

  • City of Greater Sudbury, Ron Foster, Auditor General
  • City of Ottawa, Ken Hughes, Auditor General
  • City of Toronto, Beverly Romeo-Beehler, Auditor General
  • City of Windsor, Todd Langlois, Auditor General
  • City of Vaughan, Michael Tupchong, City Auditor

Lobbyist registry

Open Data portal / Open Government model

Open data is structured, machine-readable data that is freely shared, used and built on without restrictions or cost. Communities with open data support public access to technology.

and reduce time and resources that Freedom of Information requests eat up for both the municipality and requester.

  • Open Dialogue: Working with and communicating to the public and involving citizens in decision-making.
  • Open Information: Opening up and proactively releasing government information.
  • Open Data: Making data a publically available tool or asset.
  • Open Doors: Implementing measures or plans for accountability and oversight of government actions.

Council voting records

Community engagement options

The app would be capable of sending ‘push’ notifications to users – such as emergency notices, event information, county waste collection changes, road closures, etc.

The following municipalities use EngagementHQ (previously called Bang the Table), a community engagement platform, which cost:

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