Toronto is Canada’s 6th largest government and requires a broad, permissive legislative framework to achieve “made-for-Toronto” policies commensurate with its size, responsibilities, diversity and economic and cultural significance. The City of Toronto Act, 2006 (COTA) came into force on January l, 2007.
With COTA, Toronto’s government has broad powers to pass by-laws regarding matters that range from public safety to the city’s economic, social and environmental well-being, subject to certain limitations. City by-laws now can better deal with the financial management of Toronto, determine the means and levels of service delivery and provide for the accountability and transparency of its operations.
New powers, new opportunities
Key elements of the City of Toronto Act, 2006 include:
Broad permissive powers to pass by-laws with respect to:
- Governance structure of the City and its local boards
- Accountability and transparency of the City and its operations
- Financial management
- Public assets of the City
- Economic, social and environmental well-being of the City
- Health, safety and well-being of persons
- Services provided by the City
- Protection of persons and property, including consumer protection
- Structures including fences and signs
- Business licensing
- Greater flexibility regarding procurement and notice.
Parts of the new Act include many rules and regulations the City has always followed. Council cannot use its powers in any way that opposes or conflicts with federal or provincial legislation.
Integrity & Accountability
- Requirement to establish an effective integrity and accountability regime including a Members’ Code of Conduct, Integrity Commissioner, Auditor General, Lobbyist Registrar and Ombudsman. At the same time, Council cannot use the new powers in any way that opposes or conflicts with federal or provincial legislation.
- The Ombudsman is responsible for addressing concerns about City services and investigating complaints about administrative unfairness. Access the Ombudsman’s independent, secure website.
- Authority to prohibit trade union and corporate donations to campaigns for city council.
Governance & Delegation
- Broad City authority to delegate decision-making to committees of council, staff, and boards, including authority to delegate limited quasi-judicial and legislative functions
- Broad permissive powers to establish and change local boards (excluding boards of health, police services board and library board), and create corporations
- Electronic participation in meetings within defined limits
- Authority to change council composition and ward boundaries.
- Authority to create a local appeals body for certain planning decisions (i.e. minor variance and consent)
- Authority to regulate appearance and design features and exterior sustainable design of buildings, such as green roofs
- Clarifies authority to regulate minimum and maximum density and height of development in zoning by-laws
- Authority to pass zoning by-laws with conditions attached to the approval in order to address matters such as intensification and brownfields development goals
- Allow interim controls under the Ontario Heritage Act to take effect as soon as they are imposed by council to provide stronger protection for heritage buildings.
- Enhanced business licensing authority including:
- administrative suspension of a business license
- imposing monetary penalty for contravention of a business license
- Authority to establish holiday store closings.
Enforcement & Power of Entry
- Authority to establish fines for contravening by-laws of up to a maximum of $100,000
- Authority to establish a system of administrative penalties for non-compliance with parking by-laws (subject to enabling regulation)
- Ability to establish offences for directors of corporations when corporations contravene by-laws
- Harmonized power of entry to inspect for compliance with by-laws
- Authority to search a premise for evidence of a by-law contravention pursuant to a warrant that may also authorize seizure of evidence.
- Removal of requirement for environmental assessment for traffic calming measures
- Flexibility to establish speed limits on local roads.
- Authority to provide temporary housing accommodation to address housing emergencies without having to obtain provincial approval
- Authority for loan agreements for housing projects without provincial approval provided that the city provides an indemnity
- Authority to control the demolition and conversion of rental housing.
- Explicit recognition of authority to enter into agreements with the federal government
- New relationship with province based on mutual respect, consultation and cooperation.
- Broad authority to manage its financial affairs.
- Broad permissive authority to raise new taxes except in areas specifically prohibited, such as an income tax, wealth tax, gas tax or a general sales tax. New revenue tools do not fully address the City’s long-term fiscal imbalance. However, the Act supports the stronger inter-government relations and agreements needed to achieve financial sustainability.
- Flexibility to establish municipal corporations
- Authority to undertake tax increment financing with respect to municipal taxation within prescribed areas
- Authority to benefit private business in the City of Toronto within the context of a community improvement plan without provincial approval.
COTA provides for a review of the Act by the province after two years and every five years after that. The province conducted the first statutory review in 2009, the most recent review was concluded in 2017 with the passage of Bill 68, which received Royal Assent on May 30, 2017.
Since that time, COTA has also been amended several times outside of the statutory review process, including in the following pieces of legislation:
- Municipal Emergency Act, 2020
- COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020
- Main Street Recovery Act, 2020
- Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2020
- Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act (Budget Measures), 2020
- More Homes for Everyone Act, 2022
- Plan to Build Act (Budget Measures), 2022
- Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, 2022
- Better Municipal Governance Act, 2022