Casual Legal: Dismissal of councillors & CAOs by Ministerial Order
By Ben Throndson
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider
This article provides a brief overview of the power of the Minister of Municipal Affairs (“the Minister”) under the Municipal Government Act (the “MGA”) to dismiss councillors and Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) using a ministerial order. It is a seldom-used but significant provision of the MGA.
Most councillors leave council by voluntarily resigning, choosing not to run again, or losing re-election. Likewise, most CAOs depart by voluntarily resigning, retiring, or having their appointment terminated by a resolution of Council.
The Minister is not allowed to dismiss councillors or CAOs at will. There are clear limits on this power, as set out in the MGA. For instance, the Minister may order dismissal of CAOs/councillors under s. 130.3(h) only after a viability review of the municipality and only after the municipality has failed to take any actions it was required to do by the Minister following that review.
More significantly, s. 574 of the MGA gives the Minister authority to order the dismissal of councillors or a CAO if the Minister considers the municipality is not being properly managed. Dismissal under this section is only possible after two preliminary steps have been completed.
The first step is the completion of a report to the Minister. This report may stem from an inspection of “any matter connected with the management, administration or operation of any municipality” under s. 571, the completion of an inquiry under s. 572, the report of an official administrator under s. 575.1, or an Ombudsman investigation. If, as a result of such a report, the Minister considers the municipality is managed “in an irregular, improper or improvident manner”, then s. 574(1) authorizes the Minister to take the second step and direct the council, CAO, or a designated officer to “take any action that the Minister considers proper in the circumstances.”
If the order under s. 574(1) is not “carried out to the satisfaction of the Minister” and the Minister considers that the municipality is still being managed in an irregular, improper or improvident manner, only then may the Minister make an order dismissing the council, any member of council, or the CAO. It is worth noting that the power to dismiss is just one of several options available to the Minister under this section. A Minister’s decision to dismiss council, any member of Council or the CAO, cannot be appealed but is subject to an application for judicial review.
While ministerial dismissal is rare, it is an important power available to the Minister of Municipal Affairs when independent evaluation of a municipality reveals ongoing mismanagement.
To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] abmunis.ca (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] abmunis.ca (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.
DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.