The activities of locally elected municipal councils are administered by officials and employees organized into municipal public-service departments (see MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT).
The link between policy making and administration is often supplied through committees of council, each of which reviews the activities of the department related to it and makes recommendations to council. Each department head is usually accountable to at least one committee. Other municipal administrative structures have included the board of control, now largely abandoned, in some Ontario cities; boards of commissioners, in some western cities, under which each commissioner is responsible for a group of departments and all are collectively responsible to the municipal council for the entire municipal administration; and chief administrative officers accountable to the municipal council for the co-ordination of all municipal departments.
Variations of these structures exist across Canada. Another structure is an executive committee selected by and from within the municipal council to exercise responsibilities with substantial powers in the areas of personnel, finance and contracts. The establishment of the office of chief administrative officer (sometimes under different titles, eg, city manager, city administrator, or city commissioner) has emerged in recent years as the most commonly utilized municipal structure.
The distinction between policy-making and the administration of policy is not always as clear as the foregoing might suggest. Frequently, for example, municipal councils devote much time to the debate of matters that can only be described as administrative in character. Alternatively, municipal officials may devote substantial time and effort to the development of policy recommendations, only to be told that these are not their proper concern. In this context, not suprisingly, municipal councillors and administrative officials may become involved in a sometimes divisive debate about roles and responsibilities.
All Canadian municipalities elect, on an at-large basis, a mayor (or reeve in the case of some rural municipalities) who presides at council meetings and who can also make recommendations to council. In Canada, any leadership role that a mayor may exercise is dependent largely on the power of personality and not on powers assigned to this office.
Because most municipalities are organized departmentally by function (eg, public works, finance, personnel, parks) there may be a proliferation of 15 or more departments, which does not facilitate planning and co-ordination. Departments are, therefore, sometimes grouped together, ie, departments responsible for activities such as social services, parks, recreation, might constitute a community-services group, while those responsible for providing support services, eg, finance, personnel, information processing, might be grouped under management services. Where such groupings are established, each department reports to a general director or commissioner responsible for the group.
Municipal governments have a major responsibility in the area of collective bargaining, because most municipal employees are organized. Major bargaining units include white collar and technical employees, skilled and unskilled labour, police, fire and transit workers.
Budget preparation differs from that of other governments in that a balanced budget must be prepared annually. A deficit budget is not permissible; while municipal governments may borrow for capital works, provision must be made annually for the repayment of capital and interest. When expenditure estimates have been determined, all revenues other than those derived from property taxation are then calculated; the difference between this total and the expenditure estimates must then be made up by property TAXATION. The scale of expenditures therefore has a direct impact on the property tax rate established annually.
The most difficult and controversial of municipal responsibilities involves the planning and regulation of land use. While most of this is undertaken by the municipal planning department, many other departments are also involved in the planning process, much of which must be conducted in accordance with procedures established in provincial planning legislation.