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Municipal System in Saskatchewan

Table MS-1. Saskatchewan Municipalities
Canadian Plains Research Center

Origins. Saskatchewan’s municipal system has evolved over the past 100 years, but its foundations remain relatively the same. Its roots are traceable to 1883, when a few fledgling municipal entities, including fire and local improvement districts, were established through ordinances of the territorial governor which provided guidelines regarding geographic boundaries as well as governance matters such as elections, functions, and finances. Ultimately, however, the key foundations for the existing municipal system were laid in 1908 in the report of a commission appointed in 1906, which recommended that the province establish a municipal system consisting of cities, towns, villages, and rural municipalities. In 1908 a department to deal with municipal affairs was established, and in 1909 the Legislature enacted separate legislation to govern cities, towns, villages, and rural municipalities. To this day those remain the major categories of municipalities throughout most of the province—save for the Northern Administrative District, where there are no cities or rural municipalities. The rural municipal system was established by sub-dividing the southern region between the American border and the Northern Administrative District into municipalities. The original rural municipalities are approximately 1,000 square kilometres, but the handful of those established in 1977 from the conversion of improvement districts to rural municipalities are up to twelve times larger than the original ones.

Structure. The structure of the municipal system was established during the first few decades following the creation of the province. Over time neither the types nor the number of municipalities have changed very much. Unlike other provinces where there has been a reduction in the number of municipalities, largely through amalgamations, in Saskatchewan there has not been any such reduction. The number of municipalities has remained relatively high for most of the past century. As of June 2005 the types and number of municipalities are as listed in Table MS-1.

Municipal Legislation. Traditionally, Saskatchewan has had a fragmented statutory framework for municipal governance. Separate statutes have existed for the major categories of municipalities from the inception of the municipal system. During the past quarter century the original statutory framework has been reformed in order to modernize and rationalize the statutory framework. The major reforms have been the enactment of the following statutes: the Northern Municipalities Act, 1983, for municipalities in the northern half of the province; the Urban Municipality Act, 1984, for cities, towns, and villages in the southern half of the province; the Rural Municipality Act, 1989, for rural municipalities in the southern half of the province; and the Cities Act, 2002, for the thirteen cities. The latter is a novel statute that provides cities with a greater degree of authority and autonomy to govern their respective municipalities, based on the principles of “natural person powers” and “areas of jurisdiction.” When the Cities Act came into force in January 2003, all cities were granted the option to operate either under the Cities Act or under the Urban Municipalities Act. Subsequently, all cities opted to operate under the former rather than the latter. The towns and villages, in collaboration with provincial officials, have produced draft legislation for a new act, which has some of the same principles and features of the Cities Act and which they hope the provincial government will enact in 2005. In addition to the major municipal acts, municipalities are governed by dozens of other pieces of legislation related to an array of governance matters ranging from elections, municipal financing and public health to policing, pest control and cemeteries.

Municipal Functions. The functions of Saskatchewan municipalities have become more multifaceted over time. During the early developmental period of the system, the focus was primarily on the construction of roads and bridges, the development of sewer and water systems, public health care, and agricultural support for farmers. In general, local governments are responsible for an array of services within their boundaries, such as police and fire services, water and sewage treatment services, transportation services, land use planning and development services, library services, recreation, and cultural services.

Municipal Finances. Municipalities are funded through two major categories of revenue sources: first, revenues from own sources, such as property taxes, service user fees, and license fees; and second, revenues from transfers by the provincial and federal governments, such as grants in lieu of taxes and other types of conditional and unconditional grants. In Saskatchewan, municipalities do not have direct access to other major revenue sources such as income taxes, sales tax, or fuel taxes; the property tax base is the major source of revenue for all municipalities. Traditionally, municipalities have shared this tax base with school boards and continue to do so today. In recent years, representatives of the provincial government, municipalities, and school boards have been debating the merits of and modes for reducing the reliance of education on the property tax base. For most municipalities, the property value assessment is conducted by the Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency (SAMA), an independent agency managed by a board of directors consisting of representatives from the municipal and educational sector, and of stakeholders.

Municipal Councils and Elections. Every fully incorporated municipality has a council headed either by a mayor in the case of cities, urban municipalities and northern municipalities, or by a reeve in the case of rural municipalities. Whereas in rural municipalities officials are elected for two-year terms with half of the representatives in each municipality elected each year, in all other types of municipalities they are elected for three-year terms, and all are elected at the same time. Northern settlements have an elected advisory committee comprised of a chairperson and either two or four other members, as determined by the electors at a public meeting. All municipalities in Saskatchewan have elected council members. The only exception to this are quasi-municipalities in northern Saskatchewan, known as settlements, for which the provincial Minister responsible for municipal government is the de-facto mayor and the local advisory committees serve as advisors to the Minister regarding local services, revenues and expenditures.

Provincial Municipal Oversight. Constitutionally, municipalities are creatures of the provincial government, which has a corresponding responsibility to oversee their operations. This function is performed primarily by the department responsible for municipal affairs and the Saskatchewan Municipal Board. The latter is a quasi-judicial body responsible primarily for ensuring sound financial borrowing practices of all municipalities; hearing and deciding on appeals regarding planning, assessment, fire prevention, municipal boundary, and development matters; and reviewing challenges to applications for alteration of municipal boundaries or amalgamation of municipalities.

Joseph Garcea

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Further Reading

Colligan-Yano, F. and M. Norton. 1996. The Urban Age: Building a Place for Urban Government in Saskatchewan. Regina: Century Archive Publishing; Morton, J. 1995. The Building of a Province: The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. Regina: PrintWest.
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