A petition may be a verbal or a written request to someone in authority, in this case the municipal council. The request may focus on a variety of issues, ranging from community enhancements to municipal bylaws to discontinuation of certain policies.
From time to time, a petition may reflect a public view regarding a proposed or current policy; however it does not bind council to a specific course of action. For example, citizens may petition council to consider improvements to a park or to a road, or it may register its opposition to a proposed curfew bylaw.
This type of petition is not addressed within The Municipalities Act or The Cities Act. The intent of this form of petition is to communicate public opinion to council on behalf of those citizens who choose to sign the document. Municipalities and cities are accountable to the people who elect them and they are responsible for encouraging and enabling public participation in the governance process. An accountable, responsive council will consider the petition and will make a decision which, in its view, satisfies the public interest.
Both statutes specifically address petitions regarding selected items. For the purposes of this information, "the Act" will refer to either The Municipalities Act or The Cities Act where the information is common. In addition, "municipality" will include cities as well as other urban and rural municipalities.
Opening Street or Road
In municipalities other than cities, a person or a group of persons may petition council to open a street or road. The Municipalities Act does not establish minimum requirements for this petition, therefore the petitioner or person acting on behalf of the petitioners may wish to contact the municipal office to determine the minimum requirements for the matter to be considered by council. Council is provided sole authority with respect to the opening of a road or street within the municipality. In certain circumstances, council may require the petitioner to pay all or a portion of the costs associated with opening the road or street.
Creation, Alteration or Restructuring of Municipalities
For information regarding petitions respecting the creation, alteration or restructuring of a municipality, please see Municipal Status and Boundary Changes.
Citizens may petition their council to hold a public meeting of municipal voters to discuss any municipal matter.
Minimum number of petitioners required:
The municipal administrator / city clerk has sole responsibility for determining the sufficiency of a petition.
The format of a petition for a public meeting is not described in the Act. Petition organizers are encouraged to consult with their municipal office to determine if the municipality has defined minimum requirements. If none have been set, consideration should be given to utilizing the same format as a petition for referendum, which is explained below.
If the municipality has, as a result of a previous petition, conducted a public meeting of the voters, the council may refuse to receive any further petition on the same or similar subject within one year after the date of the public meeting.
The mayor or reeve of the municipality is required to call a public meeting which is to be held within 30 days after council receives a valid petition. Council is required to provide public notice of the meeting in accordance with its public notice policy.
For information regarding public meetings, please see Conduct of Public Meetings.
A referendum is the submission of a proposed public measure which will be outlined within a municipal bylaw or a resolution to a vote of municipal electors. A referendum may be initiated by council, or citizens may petition council to place a municipal matter before the voters. The Act refers to a non-binding referendum as a plebiscite, whereas a referendum binds the municipal council to a specific course of action and therefore the rules regarding petitions for a referendum are explicitly set out in the Act.
Minimum number of petitioners required:
The subject matter of the referendum must be within the jurisdiction of council pursuant the Act and not subject to other legislation such as The Local Improvements Act. As well, the subject matter cannot involve the adoption of an operating budget or a capital budget, or the authorization of the municipal tax levy. For example, a referendum regarding upgrades to the water treatment plant may be considered as part of the capital budget and therefore beyond the reach of a referendum petition, whereas citizens might petition for a referendum to pass a new bylaw respecting management of the waterworks system.
Petition organizers are advised to adhere to the technical requirements of a petition for referendum.
In the event any of the above requirements are overlooked, the municipality may reject the petition for technical failure.
A sample petition, along with the representative's statement, may be viewed here.
The municipal administrator / city clerk is solely responsible for determining the sufficiency or validity of a petition for a referendum within 30 days after the date on which it was filed. Names may not be added to or removed from the petition after it has been filed with the administrator / clerk. In determining the sufficiency of the petition, the administrator / clerk is required to exclude the names of any petitioners which fail to meet the technical requirements. The administrator / clerk may use random statistical sampling to validate the petition.
Council is required to take certain steps in a timely fashion to submit the proposed bylaw or resolution to the voters if the administrator / clerk reports the petition for the referendum is sufficient.
The wording of the draft bylaw or resolution is to be finalized at least 8 weeks before the vote. Within 30 days of the administrator's / clerk's report as to the sufficiency of the petition, the council may apply to the Court of Queen's Bench for direction if the wording of the petition is unclear, if there are two or more conflicting petitions or for any other reason where the court's direction might be required. The petitioners' representative or representatives are to be provided notice that the court's direction is being sought and any order the court makes regarding the petition shall govern the referendum vote which will be conducted, as nearly as possible, in accordance with Part V of The Local Government Election Act. A referendum in a rural municipality will be undertaken in accordance with Part VIII.
The referendum vote is decided by the majority of those voters who cast ballots. If the majority approves the proposed bylaw or resolution, council shall pass the bylaw or resolution at the first meeting following the vote. The bylaw or resolution will remain in effect for at least 3 years. Within that time period, council may amend or repeal the bylaw or resolution only if it holds another vote or the action is necessary to avert an imminent danger to the health or safety of municipal residents. After three years, council must provide a minimum of 21 days notice to the public that it intends to amend or repeal the bylaw or resolution.
Council has discretionary authority to pass the proposed bylaw or resolution even if the proposal was not approved by the majority of the electors.