Educating our Municipal Councils and Staff

This year, the Ontario Landowners held a series of Municipal Law Seminars designed to share our findings regarding private property and municipal responsibilities and limitations. The first in the series was organized by Donna Burns, President of the Renfrew & Nipissing Landowners Association. This successful meeting was followed by two more, one in Carleton Place, hosted by the Lanark Landowners association, and a third in September, organized by the Niagara Landowners Association.

Municipal officials were invited to all three seminars but, with the exception of the first meeting, most do not respond to our invitations.

The Ontario Landowners are planning more Municipal Law Seminars for next year. Our three seminars were well attended by the public and there continues to be an appetite for Liz Marshall’s research on this topic.

In the meantime, here are two examples of two Landowner groups bringing the message directly to their municipal council.

On October 16, Donna made a presentation to the Township of Whitewater Region, reiterating the responsibility of council members to know and understand the Ontario Municipal Act as well as other pertinent legislation, when making bylaws. Failure to do so could lead to unnecessary expenses should bylaws by found to be outside the authority of the municipality. The presentation asked “Is it not comparatively cheaper to do your due diligence and research all the “details” of this bylaw? Again, I challenge you, show me in the Municipal Act where it states “private property”. In the Municipal Act, under “Scope of Powers”, sec. 8 refers to “enable the municipality to govern its affairs….the word, “its” meaning “belonging to”. Under sec. 9, it says the municipality has the “powers of a natural person to exercise its authority” ….again, the word “its” meaning “belonging to”. When it refers to “broad authority” in sec. 10…again, it refers to within “ITS” jurisdiction to exercise “ITS” authority on the “public assets” that “IT” has “acquired”. Is it worth the risk of possibly losing and the fall out of a lawsuit (under sec. 448.2 of the Municipal Act) for resulting stress and undo suffering? Is this what you call good governance of a municipality?”

The presentation was clear and the message well-meant; what wasn’t clear was if council understood as there were no questions or comments following the presentation. (Sidebar: the township has summoned Donna Burns to go to court and she has tried on different occasions to work with this council to show why we believe their bylaws are not properly researched. She believes that council and staff do not understand the court process and further that their handling of the process could cost the municipality more than anticipated.

Our newest OLA Chapter, Saugeen Regional Landowners Group went to bat for the many landowners who are being fined for having their trailers parked on their otherwise vacant property, some with fines up to $250 per day. Bob Weirmeir and Karen Weirmier made a presentation to the West Grey council on Oct 24 challenging the West Grey Trailer Licensing By-law 33-2012 municipal bylaw. You can see their presentation below. It starts about 24 minutes in.

A document prepared by the Ontario Landowners called Camping, Trailer and Tent By-Laws: What Municipal Councils Need to Know was distributed to the councillors and was referred to throughout the presentation. The point was also made that all three readings of the bylaw occurred in one day, leaving little time for public consultation. Mayor Kevin Eccles thanked the presenters saying that there was a lot of information and explaining that the bylaw had been put in place in response to complaints that properties with trailers were taxed as vacant properties but using municipal resources such as fire and police. Some homeowners felt they were subsidizing these services because they paid higher taxes. The Mayor agreed to a review of the by-law. The document referenced was Camping, Trailer and Tent By-Laws: What Municipal Councils Need to Know, researched and written by Elizabeth Marshall and reviewed by Terrance Green of Green & Associates Law Offices.