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City Governance

As you learned in the last activity, municipal governments (cities) are responsible for a lot! They decide where things like houses, streets, and parks are built, and they take care of lots of services that we engage with every single day (like drinking water and garbage pickup!).

A few important pieces of legislation (laws) dictate the way the city takes care of those things. In BC, there is the Community Charter and the Local Government Act — but the City of Vancouver is special and has its own piece of legislation, called the Vancouver Charter! The Vancouver Charter is similar in many ways to the Community Charter and the Local Government Act — it contains a set of instruction of rules that the City must follow! These rules cover things like how the City operates, what bylaws City Council can create, and how budgets are set. What sets Vancouver apart from other cities in BC are some special powers, including several related to building codes, permits, liability, and planning; its own elected Park Board; and the ability to borrow money without certain approvals.

Even though there’s a lot of rules the City has to follow, there are also a lot of things under the City’s control. It has a lot of decisions to make about everything from how often your garbage is collected to where public art pieces are put! It’s important to understand who is making those decisions and how they’re made. Below you’ll learn about the different types of people who work in our municipal governments and the kind of decisions they make every day; in the following sections you’ll learn about how services are delivered, and how cities are designed.

There are two important categories of people who work in municipal governments: elected officials and staff:

Elected Officials (including the Mayor, Councillors, and in some places Park Board Commissioners) are elected by voters every four years. The City of Vancouver City Council is made up of one Mayor and ten City Councillors, while the Board of Parks and Recreation is made up of seven Park Board Commissioners. These elected officials make all the important decisions, and provide staff with guidance on which projects to work on.

Municipal Staff are the people who make the city work. They are city planners, engineers, lawyers, emergency services personnel, community centre staff, and so much more. We will be diving more into the many things that staff do in the next module.

Activity: Day in the Life

Imagine that you are a City Councillor: What do you think they do? What kinds of meetings do they attend? Who gets to meet with them? Go through the exercises below and put your new skills to the test!