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Report of the Royal Commission on Municipal Government, 1912 Keary, William Holland, 1857- 1913

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Printed by William h. Cullin, Printer to the King's Most Excellent Majesty.
Printed by William H. Cullin, Printer to the King's Most Excellent Majesty.
1913. To His Honour Thomas Wilson Paterson,
Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of British Columbia.
May it please Your Honour :
The Royal Commission on Municipal Government, appointed by Order in Council, dated
the seventh day of August, 1912, to inquire into the operation of the present system of municipal
government in the Province, whether such system is authorized by special Act of the Legislature or by any general law relating to municipalities, including within the scope of their
inquiry the constitution and powers of Municipal Councils, the qualification of voters, and the
administration of justice within municipalities, and generally to inquire into all matters
municipal, have the honour to submit the following Report.
Chairman of Commission. REPORT
To His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor in Council :
Pursuant to Your Honour's Commission to us directed, bearing date the seventh day of
August, 1912, we held meetings at the following places and dates in the Province of British
Victoria, Monday and Tuesday, August 12th and 13th.
Nanaimo, Thursday, August 15th.
Vancouver, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, August 26th, 27th, 28th,
and 29th.
New Westminster, Friday, August 30th.
Kamloops, Monday, September 2nd. "
Vernon, Tuesday, September 3rd.
Kelowna, Wednesday, September 4th.
Summerland, Thursday, September 5th.
Penticton, Friday, September 6th.
Grand Forks, Saturday, September 7th.
Rossland, Tuesday, September 10th.
Nelson, Wednesday, September 11th.
Cranbrook, Friday, September 13th.
Fernie, Friday, September 13th.
Revelstoke, Monday, September 16th.
Vancouver (second meeting), Wednesday, November 13th.
Duncan, Saturday November 23rd.
For the purpose of comparison and guidance, we also investigated the systems of municipal
government in force in many places outside the Province, including Calgary, Edmonton,
Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and St. John, N.B., in Canada; and Spokane, Des
Moines, Omaha, Boston, Washington, Memphis, New Orleans, Galveston, Houston, Los
Angeles, Oakland, Tacoma, and some smaller cities in the United States where commission
government is in force.
At the meetings in British Columbia we had the opportunity of obtaining the views of
many of the Mayors, Reeves, Aldermen, and Councillors of the fifty-five municipalities of
the Province, and many citizens who take a deep interest in the problems of municipal
Ample opportunity to be heard was given to all persons wishing to appear before the
Commission, and a great mass of evidence and data, covering 1,200 typewritten pages, bearing
chiefly on the operation of the "Municipal Act," was gathered from witnesses in the various
places visited in the Province, where 158 were examined on oath or on solemn affirmation.
The unsworn testimony of witnesses at thirty-two places visited outside the Province was
also taken and compiled in one of the volumes of evidence appended.
We are happy to say that the broadest and most abiding impression made upon us by the
information we gathered from all quarters is that the system of municipal government in force
in British Columbia up to the present time has worked well. For many years past the
Legislature has devoted a large part of its time to amending and reshaping the municipal law,
so as to make it suitable to the changing conditions of the Province. A system of law which
has been developed in this way is almost sure to be lacking in symmetry, but to possess the great
merit of being adapted to the actual wants of the people. L 6 Koyal Commission on Municipal Government. 1913
Our municipal law, in substance, is the same as that of Ontario, Manitoba, and other
Provinces of the Dominion, but modified to meet our peculiar wants. While our discussions
and investigations have disclosed the fact that improvements might well be made in several
respects, yet we think it would be a mistake radically to change the present system and to
substitute for it another which might in practice be found not nearly as useful a code as the
one which has grown up as the result of actual experience.
Nearly all those who gave evidence before us were satisfied with the present system ; but
in the cities on the Coast a number considered that the Councils had not sufficient time to
cope with the details of administration, which had better be left to a small body of men
devoting their whole time to the work.
We have great pleasure in reporting that there appears to be no lack of upright and
intelligent men in British Columbia prepared to take upon themselves the burden of municipal
government, and that, so far as our investigation has gone, their efforts have resulted, both in
city and district municipalities, in good and honest administration. Of municipal corruption
we found no trace whatever.
We shall now touch in detail upon some of the subjects that were discussed at the various
meetings we held throughout the Province.
Form op Government.-
In some quarters it was suggested that every large city municipality should be given
power to abolish the present form of government by Mayor and Council, and to intrust all its
affairs, legislative as well as executive, to a small body of Commissioners elected by tho city at
large, and paid an adequate remuneration for devoting their whole time to the city's business.
This is what is usually called the commission form of civic government. It has been adopted
in a number of cities we visited in the United States, the largest of them being Oakland and
Omaha; and during the short time it has been in force (in no case exceeding twelve years) the
results obtained appear to be satisfactory. In Boston, however, we found that two years ago,
when the city was obtaining a new charter, they investigated the Commission form of government and decided against it, but did away with the two branches of the Council and reduced
the membership to the nine Aldermen of the present Council, leaving the executive power in
the hands of the Mayor. In Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles, California, proposals to
adopt commission government have been defeated within the past two months, whilst in New
Orleans (a city of about 400,000) commission government came into force only on December
2nd, 1912.
After careful consideration, we are of opinion that it would be a mistake to adopt this
system of commission government. For one thing, we consider that it places too much
uncontrolled power in the hands of a few men. The Commissioners, as a rule, do not exceed
five in number. The result is that three may control a city, and among the three would often
be found one man who would dominate the other two. The tendency, therefore, is strongly
towards one-man government. If the city autocrat happens to be a wise and reasonable man,
the results would, from one point of view, be good. From another point of view, we think
that, even in the case of a good autocrat, the results would be bad.      "Where  there is a fairly
numerous Council, a number of men are always being trained in the conduct of public business
by the discussion of affairs in the Council and its committees. The training thus received fits
them for the discharge of higher representative duties. It will frequently be found that men
who have distinguished themselves in the Legislature or in Parliament have received their first
training in a Municipal Council. Under commission government the supply of such men
would largely, if not wholly, fail. We observed that public discussion of civic affairs practically
ceased where commission government obtained. The Commissioners go through the form of
holding public meetings; but it is an empty form, as there is no discussion in the proper sense of
the term, everything being arranged beforehand in private meeting. It is obvious that if the
affairs of the city fall into the hands of two or three bad men under the commission form, they
might do the city an irreparable injury, as they are usually elected for a term of from two
to four years.
To guard against this danger the clumsy device of " recall" has been adopted. The
" recall" means that if a certain percentage of the electors become dissatisfied with the
Commissioners or their measures, they may demand a new election. In practice this device
has been found awkward and unworkable. If, on the other hand, it could be worked more
quickly and smoothly than at present, it would probably have the effect of keeping the political 3 Geo. 5 Royal Commission on Municipal Government. L 7
pot boiling nearly all the time. In Galveston, the first city to be governed by an elected
commission, the "recall" is not in force, and it was there contended that it is more of an
injury to the commission plan than a benefit, as business-men will not take office where they
may be compelled to go through one or more campaigns during a single term.
In some cities in the United States, the number of citizens willing to govern the city at
from $3,000 to $6,000 a year has been found to be very embarrassing. At the first election
in tho City of Spokane five Commissioners were to be elected, and ninety-two candidates
presented themselves. This embarras des richesses has led to a weeding-out of candidates by
primary elections. In short, the adoption of commission government would, we think,
necessarily lead to the introduction of the cumbersome political machinery in force in the
United States.
It was earnestly contended before us by some of the advocates of commission that when
a city reached the size, say, of Vancouver, it became impossible under the aldermanic form of
government properly to carry on public business. It was asserted that the executive duties
of an Alderman, if properly discharged, would consume all his time. If this be so, we are at
a loss to understand how it is that municipal government is so successfully conducted in Great
Britain. It may possibly be that there Councils appoint competent officials, and give them
greater latitude in the discharge of executive duties than is accorded to them amongst us; or
it may be that in Great Britain municipal government is able to enlist the services of a leisure
class with which there is nothing corresponding here.
If for any reason it should become necessary in any municipality to relieve the Council to
a greater extent than at present of their executive duties, we would suggest the formation of
a Board of Control. Such Boards are in existence in several of the large cities of Canada,
such as Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton. In Winnipeg the
Council is composed of a Mayor, four Controllers, and fourteen Aldermen. The Mayor
and Controllers, who form the Board of Control, are elected annually by a vote' of the entire
city. One Alderman is elected annually from each of the seven wards into which the city is
divided, and holds office for a term of two years. Persons eligible for election as Controllers
must be holders of property rated on the assessment roll of the city at the value of $2,000
over and above all encumbrances against the same. The Council as a whole is the legislative
body, and carries on its legislative work through standing committees in the usual way. The
Board of Control is the executive body, and as such deals with all financial matters ; regulates
and supervises expenditures, revenues, and investments; directs and controls departments and
nominates heads of departments; prepares specifications, advertises for tenders for work,
material, and supplies required by the city; inspects and reports to the Council upon all
municipal work being carried on or in progress in the city ; and generally administers the
affairs of the city, except the public schools, public parks, and the police and licence departments.    The Winnipeg scheme appears to have worked very satisfactorily.
We would recommend that municipalities having a population of 15,000 or over shall
have power to pass a by-law (which must be submitted to the electors in the same way as any
referendum) providing—
(a.) That the Council shall consist of the Mayor or Reeve, the usual number of
Aldermen or Councillors, and from two to four Controllers:
(b.) That the Mayor or Reeve shall be elected annually, and that the Aldermen or
Councillors and Controllers shall be elected for a term of two years, half retiring
each year:
(c.) That the Controllers shall give all their time to the business of the municipality,
and shall receive remuneration for their services :
(d.) That the Board of Control (which shall consist of the Mayor or Reeve and the
Controllers) shall have power to employ or dismiss all employees of the municipality, including heads of departments :
(e.) That the Board of Control shall have full authority over all the executive work
of the municipality, subject to the right of the Council to reject, vary, or refer
back its actions by a two-thirds vote.
Classification op Municipalities.
The Union of British Columbia Municipalities urged that any new " Municipal Act"
should be divided into four parts, one applicable to cities having a population of 20,000 or
over; one applicable   to  cities  having  a  population of between  10,000 and  20,000;  one L 8 Royal Commission on Municipal Goa^ernment. 1913
applicable to cities having a population of under 10,000; and one applicable to district
municipalities; each part to be distinct, separate, and complete in itself. As municipalities
are at present divided into city and district municipalities, this suggestion resolves itself into
a proposal to divide city municipalities into three classes, and to confer different powers on
each class. None of the advocates of this scheme were prepared to say, even in a general
way, what powers should be conferred on the different classes.
We are not aware that cities are classified in this way in any Province of Canada,
although a few provisions, somewhat along this line, have been introduced into the
" Municipal Act" of Ontario to confer what is practically claimed to be a special charter
for the City of Toronto. The suggestion, as a whole, clearly comes from the United States,
where in several jurisdictions cities are so classified, the main object of the classification
having reference to the power to incur debt. Such a classification is not required for this
purpose with us, as the power of each of our municipalities to incur debt is strictly limited
by the financial position of the municipality. For any other purpose than that of debt
incurring limitation, we consider such a provision unnecessary and even mischievous.
It has been the policy of the Legislature of British Columbia, except in the matter of
debt-incurring, to confer the same powers upon all cities. If any city does not need any
given power, it does not have to exercise it, but the power is there should its exercise at
any time become necessary. Were a different policy in force there would be continual
applications to the Legislature for increase of power. As a matter of fact, many of the
cities having a population under 10,000 have about the same problems to solve as cities of
the larger size. There would no doubt be intense dissatisfaction if any of the powers now
possessed, by the City of Kamloops, for instance (a city under 10,000), were taken away from
it, and we see no good reason why it should be deprived of any of its present powers.
If, then, all cities under 10,000 are to keep all the powers at present possessed by city
municipalities, it is very difficult to imagine what additional powers should be conferred on
cities having a population of between 10,000 and 20,000 ; and much more difficult, if not
quite impossible, to enumerate the additional powers that should be conferred upon cities
with a population of over 20,000.
When a city reaches the size of Vancouver, its affairs become so complex that it is
difficult to attempt to provide for them all by a general Act. In such cases a special
charter is preferable to the provisions of a general Act. We found the representatives of
Vancouver eminently satisfied with their present charter, which has been moulded to suit
the city's wants, and strongly opposed to being brought under a general Act. We see no
good reason why Vancouver should be deprived of its charter.
Local Improvements.
The provisions of our municipal law dealing with the incidence of the expense of local
improvements are susceptible of great improvement. We are not aware of any good reason
why the same provisions should not be made applicable to all municipalities. The present
heavy expense of advertising these undertakings in the newspapers might well, to a large
extent, be done away with. The experience of the City of Vancouver shows that the owner
of the land is more certain to be advised of the work proposed to be done by a notice mailed
to him directly than he is by advertisement in the press. We are reconstructing the local
improvement sections of the Act, and think it advisable that they be submitted to the
Legislature during the coming session.
Public Service Corporations.
Several complaints were addressed to us regarding the arbitrary and unreasonable
exercise by public service corporations of powers of entry upon public streets for the erection
of poles, the laying of rails, pipes, etc., conferred by the private Acts of incorporation of these
companies. Several of these Acts are quite old and contain few and inadequate provisions
for safeguarding public rights, as they were passed at a time when private bill legislation
was not as carefully considered from the point of view of the public as at present. It seems
to us that the situation could be properly dealt with by a public Act authorizing the
establishment of a commission with ample powers to enforce reasonable action in such cases,
notwithstanding the powers conferred on these corporations by the private Acts already
referred to.    Such a tribunal  might be either permanent or appointed by the Lieutenant- 3 Geo. 5 Royal Commission on Municipal Government. L 9
Governor from time to time to deal with such cases as they arise. Power might also be
given to such a commission to compel such companies to give adequate service at reasonable
rates.    Such tribunals exist in Ontario and Manitoba, and are found to be of great benefit.
Public Utilities.
The Union of British Columbia Municipalities has strongly urged that all municipalities
should be given power to purchase, own, construct, maintain, and operate telephone systems,
and also systems of public transportation by means of motor-buses, or railless electric cars,
within their respective corporate limits. We recommend that these powers should be given
to the different municipalities of the Province.
Several municipalities especially asked that they be given power to establish a municipal
telephone service. Some years ago the farmers on Lulu Island combined to establish a
private telephone system for their own benefit, as the municipality had not the right to do
so. Our attention has also been called to one municipality that has already this power under
its Act of incorporation, and we do not see any good reason against giving the same power
to all municipalities. Municipalities have already the right to operate tramways, and these
are certainly more complicated and more difficult to establish and operate than telephone
Government Supervision.
We firmly believe in municipal home rule, but, like everything else, this can be carried
to excess. The Province at large, as represented by its Government, cannot afford to be
indifferent to what is taking place in the municipalities. Cases have occurred in Canada
where a Province had to go to the assistance of municipalities which had bankrupted
themselves by recklessly bonusing railways. In this Province there is not even a
Government  office   where  information  can   be   obtained   regarding   the   financial   affairs   of
municipalities. In England there is a department of the Government, called the Local
Government Board, which exercises a very real control over municipal bodies. Before a
local government can contract debenture indebtedness, we understand the scheme for which
the loan is intended must receive the approval of the Board. While we do not think it
advisable to establish such a system in British Columbia, we do think the Government should
have full information as to what the municipalities are doing.
We therefore would recommend that the Government establish a Municipal Department
similar to those in Manitoba and Alberta. Under this Municipal Department there should
be one or more inspectors, whose duty it would be to see that the books of each municipality,
including the school accounts, are kept in a proper manner, that they are duly audited at
least once a year, and that a uniform system of municipal accounting is established. It
should also be the duty of each municipality to transmit annually to the Municipal
Department a full statement of its financial position. The Municipal Commissioner of the
Government could also certify the validity of money by-laws and debentures issued thereunder, as is done in Ontario by the Railway and Municipal Board, and in Manitoba by the
Municipal Commissioner, thus preventing any attack upon debenture by-laws or debentures.
Provisions similar to those above outlined we found would be welcomed by the
municipalities. Such inspectors would gather most valuable data for the guidance and
information of the Legislature in dealing with municipal affairs, which must always bulk
large in Provincial legislation. On the other hand, the municipalities would gain great
assistance from such officers, who would be able to advise all municipalities of any
improvement in municipal methods effected by the most progressive municipalities in the
Province. In this way the work of municipal government would become co-ordinated to
the advantage of all concerned.
Investment op Sinking  Funds.
Sections 222 and 223 of the " Municipal Act" authorize the Councils of municipalities to
invest their sinking funds in a large number of excellent securities, but they also empower
them to invest these funds upon the security of first mortgages on land. Experience has
shown that investment in mortgage is, or in some cases may be, a dangerous form of investment for municipalities. Even when the security is good, there is often great difficulty in
compelling an influential ratepayer to make prompt payment of interest. We were much
pleased to find that but few municipalities in the Province have availed themselves of this L 10 Royal Commission on Municipal Government. 1913
power. In our opinion, it would conduce very much to the safety of sinking funds if this
power were taken away from municipalities. In this connection we might add that it might
well be made the duty of a Government Inspector of Municipalities to report upon the investment of sinking funds.
Term of Office por and Councillors.
There was a marked consensus of opinion among the representatives of municipalities,
and others who gave us the assistance of their views, that the term of office for Aldermen
and Councillors is too short—that a man is about beginning to understand the affairs of a
municipality when his one-year term of office expires. We concur with the opinion so expressed
that it would be a decided improvement if Aldermen and Councillors were elected for a term
of two years, one-half to retire each year. The Mayor and Reeve, it was generally thought,
should be elected annually.
Police and Licence Boards.
Great differences of opinion exist as to the best method of constituting these Boards.
Some think they should be entirely elective ; others that they should consist of the Mayor,
Police Magistrate, and County Court Judge. The majority of those who expressed an opinion
on this subject were in favour of the law as it now stands. There appears to us to be a well-
founded objection to having the County Court Judge or the Police Magistrate on these Boards,
as either of them might be called upon in his judicial capacity to pass upon the legality or
advisability of a line of action which he had sanctioned as an administrator. On the whole,
we are in favour of the present system. In the City of Boston we found that the government of the Police Force is placed entirely in the hands of a Commissioner appointed by the
Governor of the State.
Municipal Franchise.
This is a subject to which the Legislature has frequently addressed itself, and, of course,
it is peculiarly one for that body to deal with. It seems to us, however, that an already
complex situation was rendered almost hopelessly worse by the legislation of last session,
whicli provided (1912, c. 8, s. 4) that—
" In case the registered holder of the fee and the registered vendee under an agreement
for sale are both owners (as defined in this Act) of the same land or real property, they shall
both have the right to have their names entered on the voters' list, but the holder alone shall
have the right to vote at any municipal election, unless he, on or before the day of election,
by writing under his hand filed in the office of the City Clerk, waives or renounces his right to
vote, in which case the vendee shall be entitled to vote, provided he has all the requisite
qualifications of a voter."
We would suggest that where the owner of land executes an agreement to sell, the owner
shall retain the franchise in respect to said property if he pays the taxes imposed on it; but
if the taxes are paid by the vendee or any transferee of the benefit of this agreement, then the
franchise shall go to such vendee or transferee, upon his filing with the clerk of the municipality, before the closing of the list, a statutory declaration that he i» such vendee or
transferee, that he is a British subject, and has paid the current year's taxes on the property.
Taxation in Support of Schools.
Great dissatisfaction was exhibited before us over the relations existing between Municipal
Councils and Boards of School Trustees. It is provided by section 48 of the " Public Schools
Act," as it appers in the revision of 1911, that the Council of any municipality shall in any
year pass a by-law or by-laws for levying a special rate of not more than 5 mills in the dollar
for school purposes ; and if and so far as the money raised by such rate and received from the
grant paid by the Minister of Finance are insufficient for that purpose, the Council shall apply
a portion of the ordinary revenue for school purposes. Before the said revision came into
force in January, 1912, it was optional with municipalities whether they would furnish funds
in excess of what would be produced by 5 mills on the dollar.
In practice the School Boards frequently demanded by their estimates of ordinary
expenses sums which amounted to from 7 to 10 mills in the dollar, and they insisted that the
excess over 5 mills should be furnished by the municipality out of general revenue. As these
demands  were usually acceded to, the limit of taxation for general school purposes, even 3 Geo. 5 Royal Commission on Municipal Government. L 11
before the revision of 1912, had become illusory. While the ratepayer thought that the
increase in his taxes was due to the action of the Municipal Council, it might have resulted
from the extravagance of the school trustees. In school districts including an area outside
the municipality, the Council has power to collect only 5 mills for school taxes from the added
area, and therefore all the additional expenses over and and above 5 mills must necessarily be
borne by the municipality alone out of general revenue.
We would suggest that if anything is to be obtained from the municipality above whatever may be deemed a reasonable limit to be fixed for ordinary school purposes, say 7 mills,
that it'should be obtained only when the trustees make it clear to the Council that the
estimates of the Board are reasonable. We think this measure of control can safely be
entrusted to the Councils. They are responsible to the people, and they have a knowledge of
the financial affairs of the municipality not possessed by the trustees.
It has also been urged upon us that school trustees should have the same property qualifications as Aldermen or Councillors, and we see no reason why this request should not be
Exemption from Taxation.
A great deal of evidence was adduced before us on the question of the exemption of
churches and charitable institutions from taxation. The weight of evidence was in favour
of churches bearing their share of the burden of taxation ; and we would recommend that the
present exemption of churches and church-sites be abolished. In the City of Vancouver,
under its special charter, church property is not exempt at the present time.
Tax Sales.
In the well-known case of Anderson against South Vancouver, a sale of land for taxes,
held some twelve or fourteen years ago, was set aside to the great injury of subsequent
purchasers of the land. We think legislation should be enacted that would absolutely prevent
the recurrence of such a case. We would suggest that when a tax-sale deed is issued it should
confer an absolute title upon the purchaser. A provision, in some respects similar to that
contained in paragraph (d), section 70, of the " Vancouver Incorporation Act," might well be
enacted to carry our views on this subject into effect.
Remuneration of Heads op Municipalities.
Our attention has been called to the amendment, made in 1912, to subsection (8) of section
53 of the "Municipal Act," the effect of which is that only Mayors of cities having a population
of over 20,000 can be paid an indemnity. We do not think this was intended, and we would
suggest that remedial legislation be introduced at the coming session of the Legislature.
Recommendations were made to the Commissioners, at their different sittings, that a
Provincial Board of Censors should be appointed to exercise supervision over moving-picture
shows and advertising posters. We believe such a Board would be a benefit to the public of
British Columbia, especially to the young who frequent the picture-shows. We would
recommend the establishment of a Provincial Board of Censors, such as obtains in Ontario,
in preference to a municipal censorship.
Debentures as Investments for Trust Funds.
A great many British Columbia municipal debentures are marketed in the Province of
Ontario. The Ontario Act respecting the investment of trust funds provides that the debentures
of municipalities in the Provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta are legal
investments for trust funds, but does not include the debentures of the municipalities in
the Province of British Columbia. The fiscal agents of some of the municipalities in British
Columbia have represented to us that it would help the market for our municipal securities if
British Columbia debentures were placed in the same class as the debentures of the municipalities of these other Provinces, and have asked us to recommend that your Government
open negotiations with the Government of Ontario with a view to having the Ontario Act
amended to cover this. We concur with these representations, and also suggest that the
Governments of the other Provinces of the Dominion might very well be approached with the
same end in view. L 12 Royal Commission on Municipal Government. 1913
Administration op Justice in Municipalities.
Some of the smaller municipalities in the interior of British Columbia have represented
to the Commission that they are at times put to great expense in intercepting criminals
beyond the limits of their municipalities; and it does seem somewhat of a hardship to a small
municipality, when a crime is committed within its borders by some non-resident passing
through, that it should be at great expense in following such a criminal to distant part3 of
Canada or the United States to bring him back for trial. We would respectfully suggest that
the Government bear a portion of the expense of securing the return of these criminals.
There are many minor respects in which the "Municipal Act" might well be improved.
These we shall deal with in a draft of the Act which we shall submit to the Law Officers of
the Crown. Hereto we append the evidence given before us at the meetings held in British
Columbia, also notes of information on municipal matters collected by us beyond the confines
of the Province, all of which is respectfully submitted.
Dated at Victoria, the 30th day of December, 1912.
A. E. BULL. 3 Geo. 5 Royal Commission on Municipal Government. L 13
Commission and Board op Control.
On the subject of the form of municipal government there was a great deal of difference
of opinion. There was also modifications attached to many opinions that make it difficult to
arrive at any determinate result. Taking fifty-four witnesses who did express themselves, the
result would seem to stand as nearly as possible as follows:—
Commission (elected)       13
Commission (appointed)      7
Board of Control    14
Present system    16
British plan      4
In considering the above, it should be stated that of the seven who advocated commissions
by appointment, five were in favour of having them appointed by the Council and two by the
Government, so that those appointed by the Council would be practically Boards of Control.
Counted in that way, it would leave nineteen for Board of Control and fifteen for commission,
of which thirteen are for elective commissions, though two of these were only in favour of
commission for larger places, preferring the present system for small municipalities.
The advocates of the British plan wanted Councillors, Aldermen, and Mayor; but apart
from these were a number of others who recommended that the Mayor or Reeve should be
elected by the Council in the British way.
Of the organizations that dealt with the matter, the Vancouver Board of Trade refused,
as a body, to endorse the commission plan. One of their delegates expressed himself, however,
in favour of it, and the other favoured Board of Control.
Generally, preference for the present plan was expressed in the smaller cities and rural
municipalities, while in the larger centres the majority desired a change. A number of the
witnesses examined confessed that they had not given the matter much thought, and would
not commit themselves to any definite opinion.
Police and Licence Commissioners.
On the constitution of these Boards there was also a great deal of difference of opinion,
but the general consensus seemed to favour the retention of the present system. Of opinions
expressed by fifty-one witnesses, the results were as follows:—
For present system    26
For popular election    19
For Mayor, Police Magistrate, and County Court Judge      3
Part elective and part appointed      2
Committee of the Council      1
Of the organizations that expressed themselves, the Vancouver Board of Trade favoured
a commission consisting of the Mayor, the Police Magistrate, and the senior County Court
Judge. The Victoria Voters' League was in favour of election. Alderman Hepburn favoured
leaving the Licence Commission as at present, but having police affairs in Vancouver administered by a committee of the Council as formerly.
Longer Term.
On the desirability of a longer term for Aldermen and Councillors opinion was practically
unanimous, though the general feeling was that Mayors and Reeves should be elected annually,
so that with half the Councillors retiring each year the new men would be iu control. Of
fifty-nine witnesses examined, they expressed themselves as follows :—
For two-year term, half to retire annually (2 exceptions to latter)    50
For three years, with annual elections in rotation      4
For four years ,      1
Against extension      4 L 14 Royal Commission on Municipal Government. 1913
Alderman Dodd, of New Westminster, expressed himself against extending the term
unless the provision of recall was attached. Some of the witnesses who favoured a two-year
term modified it by saying "two or three years," but the great majority were in favour of
two years only, with rotation elections, and the annual election of Mayor or Reeve.
Local Improvements.
The evidence on this subject naturally involved a great deal of detail, but one or two
points emerged clearly. It seemed to be the unanimous opinion of witnesses that advertising
for local improvements is too costly, and should either be eliminated entirely or very much
curtailed. The majority of the witnesses were in favour of the elimination of advertised
notices, and sending personal mailed notices instead. This system was embodied in the local
improvement sections drafted by Mr. F. A. McDiarmid for the British Columbia Union of
Municipalities, and which were endorsed by that organization.
Some witnesses pointed out that the requirements for the daily advertising of by-laws
were particularly a hardship in places where no daily paper is published. A number of
witnesses from district municipalities urged that they should be given the same powers as
cities in regard to local improvements, and some advocated that petitions for by-laws should
be abolished.
The majority of witnesses examined were in favour of the ward system. One of the
witnesses, Alderman Irwin, of North Vancouver, expressed himself as in favour of wards for
large places, but against them for small municipalities. Another, Mr. Jonathan Rogers, of
Vancouver, thought it would be better if half the Aldermen were elected from wards, and the
other half from the city at large. Witnesses expressed themselves for or against wards as
For    26
Against    17
Municipal Powers.
Opinions as to the powers that should be given to Municipal Councils were very varied.
Two said they thought municipal powers should be given along the lines of the " British North
America Act," specifying the things they might not do, but leaving them at liberty to do
anything else.
Some thought that the powers of cities should be given to rural municipalities. Quite a
number urged that municipalities should have greater control over their streets and roads, and
companies operating thereon. Numerous other points were urged, such as that Councils should
be able to revoke or modify old franchises, that they should inspect dairies or extend services
beyond their limits, to cut dangerous trees, to prohibit the erection of unsightly buildings,
signboards, etc. There were also pleas for municipal ownership, which are dealt with under
a separate heading.
Municipal Ownership.
Evidence on municipally owned utilities showed that in every instance the waterworks
were paying, the one exception, perhaps, being Penticton, where the domestic service is so
involved with the irrigation service that it seems hard to deduce from the evidence a clear
statement as to its standing. In Summerland, where the two are combined, the results appear
to be satisfactory. Municipally owned electric-light systems appear to be paying, with the
possible exception of Revelstoke, where Dr. Hamilton, an ex-Mayor, stated that it had not
paid if everything against it was counted. Four municipalities and the British Columbia
Union of Municipalities asked for the right to own and operate telephones. Witnesses from
Vancouver and Point Grey, and the British Columbia Union of Municipalities urged that
municipalities should be given the power to operate motor-buses or railless trolly systems.
Public Utility Companies.
In Victoria there was considerable complaint about troubles with the B.C. Electric
Railway Company and the Esquimalt Waterworks Company in connection with their work on
the streets.    It was claimed that these companies tore up paved streets to lay their pipes 3 Geo 5 Royal Commission on Municipal Government. L 15
without asking permission from the Council. The manager of the Esquimalt Waterworks
Company appeared before the Commission, and denied some of the statements that had been
made and explained others. In Cranbrook it was also reported that there had been a little
trouble, and some of the up-country municipalities complained of the powers given to the B.C.
Telephone Company in this connection, though it was not stated that they had been abused.
Generally it was urged that municipalities should be given greater control over public utility
A number of witnesses and the Vancouver Board of Trade urged the establishment of
a censorship over moving-picture films, vaudeville shows, posters, etc. The majority favoured
a Provincial Board of censors; others (more particularly in the interior) urged that the
censorship should be municipal, as the shows and films came in from different points; and
some were in favour of giving the chief of police the power of censorship.
As to the date when the municipal elections should be held, there was great diversity of
opinion. A number of witnesses favoured holding the elections at the end of November or
tbe beginning of December, so that they would be over before Christmas, and the Council
ready to start work with the New Year. As a corollary to this, it was urged that the fiscal
year close October 31st, so that a financial statement might be placed before the electors. On
the other hand, many Councillors and municipal officials favoured leaving the dates
approximately as they are, but giving a longer time (especially in cities) between nomination
and election. Some urged that nomination in cities should be on Monday and election on
Saturday, the same as in rural municipalities; but others objected that Saturday was a busy
day in the stores, and that a week between nomination and election would be better. A
number of municipalities said that they found no difficulty with the present system. One
witness, Alderman Hepburn, advocated elections on New Year's day, the same as in Ontario;
but this proposal was rejected by the Vancouver Board of Trade.
Some thirty of the witnesses examined expressed- themselves in favour of Government
inspectorship of audits, and four at least favoured an actual Government audit. Two
witnesses from rural municipalities urged that at least an annual audit should be made
As to the desirability of a uniform system of municipal accounting, among the witnesses
examined there was not a dissenting voice; twenty-eight expressed themselves in favour and
no one against.
Sinking Fund.
It was found that the greater number of municipalities had placed their sinking funds
in the savings-banks at interests ranging from 3 to 5 per cent. A few had invested in first
mortgage on real estate, limiting themselves within 5 per cent, of the assessed value. A
number also had bought back old debentures. Some held that it was desirable that municipalities should have the right to invest sinking funds in mortgages; others held that it was
dangerous. Vancouver and Burnaby had formerly invested in mortgages, as also had New
Westminster; but all these municipalities have now abandoned that practice.
Tax Sales.
There were a number of suggestions for alterations in tax-sale laws, such as that they
should not be annual, they should not be compulsory, and that title should be given at time of
sale and no redemption allowed, but the surplus over arrears paid to the owner. The
British Columbia Union of Municipalities urged that a limit should be placed on the time for
starting actions to set aside tax sales, and one witness advocated that all tax sales should be
validated up to five years ago.
School Boards.
Owing to the increased cost of maintaining schools, it was found that in many
municipalities there were difficulties in financing them. Although the limit of the levy for
school maintenance is 5 mills, in Rossland it was stated that it really cost about  15 mills to L 16 Royal Commission on Municipal Government. 1913
maintain the schools, and the cost in other places graded down from that to about 3£ mills
Under these circumstances it was strongly urged that the limit that might be levied should be
increased; some urged to 10 mills, others to 6 and 7. There were also many complaints about
the burdens thrust upon some municipalities by having districts extending beyond their
borders in which they could only levy 5 mills, while it was costing the municipality from 10
to 15 mills to maintain the schools ; but against this it was pointed out that the municipality
received Government grants. In connection with Government grants, it was urged that they
be placed on a fixed rather than an arbitrary basis. Many remedies were suggested. Some
held that the Council should have complete control of the School Board finances; others that
the treasurer of the schools at least should be directly under the Council. Some were in
favour of allowing the School Board to levy and collect its own rates. Some urged that the
School Board's annual estimate of expenditure should be final, and they should have no right
to come back to the Council for more. Some witnesses favoured property qualifications for
school trustees. While some advocated a 7- or 10- mill limit on school taxation, others
contended that there should be no limit at all. Among those was the British Columbia
Union of Municipalities, though it was explained that the conclusion had evidently been
arrived at under a misunderstanding as to the real nature of the law.
Water Systems.
It was urged by three witnesses that the Government should reserve land and timber
around the sources of water-supply for cities, so that it might be kept pure. A frontage tax
on city water systems was also advocated.
Taxing Automobiles.
Since automobiles passing through damage the roads of municipalities, it was asked at
Duncan that the Government be recommended to return some of the licence fees to
municipalities. North Vancouver District asked that they be given the privilege of charging
higher automobile licences.
Street Traffic.
It was urged in Vancouver that pedestrians should be given the right-of-way at
street-crossings, but vehicles should have it between the intersections. It was also suggested
that horse-vehicles should be compelled to carry lights at the front and rear.
Assessment and Taxation.
Under this head a great variety of suggestions were made, but they involve so much of
detail that analysis is difficult. Generally there seemed to be a tendency to take taxes off
improvements and place them on land only. It was also urged in several places that the
Government should turn over the personal-property tax to municipalities. One witness
complained that the period between Court of Revision and the appeal to the County or Supreme
Court was too long and delayed work. Another held that the revision of the roll should not
be in the hands of the Council, but of an independent Tax Court. It was urged by one
witness that transfers of property in rural municipalities should be registered with the
assessor; and by another that assessors should have power to take evidence under oath.
Some it was found made up the assessment roll from the Land Registry Office records, while
others depended on general information. Mr. Jonathan Rogers, of Vancouver, urged that
there should be a special assessment for park purposes rather than a Government grant.
Considerable evidence was heard on the question of the exemption from taxation of
churches and charitable institutions. Of twenty-nine witnesses on church exemption,
opinions were expressed as follows: For church exemption, 8 ; against, 21.
Among those who spoke against the exemption of churches were the ministers of several
denominations. It was generally agreed that public hospitals should be exempt, though one
or two advocated taxing them and afterwards giving them a grant. Among the bodies
opposed to exemption were the British Columbia Union of Municipalities and the Vancouver
Board of Trade. The former held that no land should be exempt from taxation, while the
latter urged that only Dominion, Provincial, and municipal property should be exempt.    It 3 Geo. 5 Royal Commission on Municipal Government. L 17
was generally agreed that nothing, except the latter properties, should be exempt from local
improvement taxation, and some included Government property also. Most of those who
spoke were opposed to the exemption of institutions such as the Young Men's Christian
Association. That organization in Vancouver put in data on its own behalf, arguing for
Municipal Department.
There was unanimity of opinion as to the desirability of the establishment of a Municipal
Department in Victoria. Some favoured a Municipal Commissioner; others urged a body
with powers like the Local Government Board in England ; but all agreed that it would be a
good thing to have some central authority to which municipal statistics could be sent annually,
in charge of some person or persons conversant with municipal affairs. While one or two
urged the creation of a Minister of Municipalities, it was more generally agreed that an office
in connection with an existing department would be sufficient.
Fiscal Year.
The difficulty experienced in some places of getting out a financial statement between
the close of the year and the annual elections led to a number of suggestions for earlier closing
of the fiscal year. The British Columbia Union of Municipalities asked that it close one
month earlier than at present, so that the statement might be presented before the January
elections. A number of witnesses were also in favour of having it close October 31st, with
the elections the first week in December.
General Finance.
Several witnesses urged that the Government should either purchase municipal debentures
or at least guarantee them. The Mayor of Duncan asked that, in view of the stringency in
money markets, municipal debentures should be issued as high as 7 per cent, instead of 5 per
cent. He asked also that they be allowed to license persons selling stocks aud shares. In
Nelson a witness advocated that municipalities, instead of selling debentures, be allowed to
issue coupons of $100 at 5 per cent., which might be sold locally. In the same place the clerk
pointed out that there was no provision for paying off debentures in equal annual instalments.
It was argued by witnesses in different places that rebates for the prompt payment of taxes
should apply to debenture and school rates as well as to other rates, and one witness added
that the rebate generally, instead of being one-sixth of the whole, should be only 10 per cent.,
and that any surplus should be carried to next year's account. Other suggestions were that
the power of municipalities to buy stock in joint-stock companies should be made clearer; that
the purchase of assets should not count against the borrowing-power; that tbe Government
should only charge a nominal sum against municipal hydro-power plants; that municipalities
should be allowed to charge interest against capital raised on by-laws until it gets returns.
A number of rural municipalities urged strongly that they should be given power to
compel persons subdividing property to clear and rough-grade roads in the same. The British
Columbia Union of Municipalities asked that owners should not be allowed to subdivide any
property by metes and bounds unless with the approval of the Council. Several witnesses also
held that the subdivison of lots should be subject to the regulation of the Council, as to the
size, contour, etc. In the Okanagan Valley it was argued that compulsory 66-foot roads often
worked a hardship east of the Cascades. It was urged that all subdivisions should be
submitted to the Council before registration.
There was some complaint of the difficulty municipalities found in securing title for land
expropriated or exchanged for street purposes, and Mr. McQuarrie, of New Westminster,
in a letter to the Commissioners, pointed out the difficulty that the municipality found in
endeavouring to resume property. One witness, Alderman Cuthbert, claimed that the City of
Victoria had been robbed of thousands of dollars in expropriations for street-widening. The
British Columbia Union of Municipalities also dealt with the matter in No. 4 of their
resolutions. L 18 Royal Commission on Municipal Government. 1913
Voters' Lists.
Many views were expressed on the preparations of the voters' list and many difficulties
were exposed. One of the greatest difficulties was in connection with the transfer of property
which might have changed hands several times before it was registered again. It was agreed
that the registered owner, who is now entitled to vote, had very often the smallest interest in
the property. The consensus of opinion appeared to be that the last purchaser, the man
paying the taxes, should have the vote. A few urged that both registered and assessed
owner should vote, and some held that it was simpler to leave the vote with the registered
owner. In view of the congested state of the Land Registry Offices, it was urged that
application for registration should be sufficient to entitle the holder of ail agreement of sale to
vote. Some witnesses held that the present right of waiver from the registered owner to the
assessed owner was of little value, since one case was stated in which a property had changed
hands seventeen times, and it was impracticable to legislate that the waiver should pass from
the first owner to the last holder of agreement through such a chain. The general opinion
was that the simplest procedure was to compile the voters' list from the assessment roll.
The householders' vote was again a subject of difficulty. It was held that the time for
registering household voters should extend through September and October. One witness
urged that the municipal voters' list should be the same as the Provincial; another that votes
should be given only on property qualification. In some places it was found that lodgers in
hotels were placed on the voters' list; in others they were not. A number of witnesses thought
it would be better if the vote were confined to bona-fide tenants. In Victoria, Mrs. Gordon
Grant and Mr. McEwan, of the Voters' League, both asked that women should be placed on
the voters' list on the same conditions as men.
Dealing with the property votes, the British Columbia Union of Municipalities recommended that the last purchaser who could show a 25-per-cent. interest in the property should
have the vote. They also urged that where there were wards a property-owner should be
allowed to vote in every ward in which he has property. They further asked that the municipality shall be allowed to appoint persons to take declarations for the voters' list. In one case
it was held that the vendor should be compelled to make a declaration to the municipal clerk
or assessor as soon as he has sold his property. Various objections were urged as to the time or
residence and the shortness of the period between the closing of the voters' list and the election.
The difficulty of determining who were British subjects on property votes was also pointed out.
It was pointed out that the incorporation of municipalities might be facilitated if when
a place had grown to a certain size in population the Government should proclaim its status,
and so save the expense of taking out incorporation papers. It was also recommended that
a vote of three-fifths of those residents entitled to vote on money by-laws should be sufficient
for incorporation without counting the absentees at all; and that votes should be on residence,
not property valuation.
Among other matters brought before the Commissioners was the grading of municipalities
into four divisions, which was strongly urged by the British Columbia Union of Municipalities.
Several Ministers argued that clergymen should be eligible for seats on Councils and School
Boards. It was asked that greater remuneration should be allowed for Reeves and Councillors
in rural districts, and that licensing of trades should be optional with municipalities; that
hospitals should be public institutions ; that municipalities should be allowed to restrict horse-
racing ; that the power of earlier closing of bars should be given them ; that pool-rooms should
be licensed ; that youths under twenty-one years of age should not be allowed in bars. One
matter urged in several places was the difficulty that municipalities incurred in caring for the
transient indigent, sick, and insane. The discrepancy between circus and carnival licences
was pointed out, and it was asked that pedlars' licences should be increased. Municipal
Civil Service Commissions were recommended. It was further urged that initiative, referendum,
and recall be added to the present municipal constitutions; that the Government should have
direct control of municipal policing ; that carbon copies of all receipts and expenditures should
be kept; that the definition of "wild land" in municipalities should be clearer; that the
Government should recommend engineers for municipalities; that all streets should be vested
in the municipality ; and that Councils should have the right to aid gymnasiums for volunteer
fire brigades. VICTORIA,  B.C. :
rriuted by William h. Cullin, printer to the King's Most Excellent Majesty.


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