Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

2020

Subjects

Municipalities, Legitimacy, COVID-19

Abstract

As COVID-19 swept through Canada, cities were at the front lines in curbing its spread. From March 2020, municipalities introduced such measures as restricting park access, ticketing those lingering in public places, and enforcing physical distancing requirements. Local governments have also supplemented housing for the vulnerable and given support to local “main street” businesses. Citizens expected their local governments to respond to the pandemic, but few people know how constrained the powers of municipalities are in Canadian law. Municipalities are a curious legal construct in Canadian federalism. Under the constitution, they are considered to be nothing more than “creatures of the province.” However, courts have decided in many cases that local decisions are often considered governmental and given great deference. This chapter focuses on the tensions in this contradictory role when it comes to municipal responses to COVID-19, particularly when those responses take the form of closure of public spaces, increased policing by bylaw officers, and fines. I conclude that municipalities serve an important role in pandemic responses, alongside provincial and federal governments. Provincial law should be amended to capture the important role of municipalities in Canadian federalism, especially in the area of municipal finance.

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