It appears as though Ottawa’s City council will be a “Lame Duck” council between nomination day on August 19, 2022 until the start of the new term November 15, 2022. What is a Lame Duck council and how might it affect you? Let’s break it down!
What is a Lame Duck Council?
Section 275 of the Municipal Act (the “Act”) provides that when certain conditions arise during an election year, council’s powers will be limited. The purpose of these limitations is to prevent an outgoing council from taking certain actions during an election period. When this happens, council is known as a “Lame Duck council” until the newly-elected council takes office.
When might Ottawa City Council be considered a Lame Duck Council?
There are two periods when Ottawa City Council may be a Lame Duck council:
- Between nomination day (August 19, 2022) and election day (October 24, 2022); and/or
- Between election day (October 24, 2022) and the start of the new term (November 15, 2022).
During both periods, Ottawa City Council will become a Lame Duck Council if the “new council will include less than three-quarters of the members of the outgoing council.” That is, will at least 75% of the current Ottawa City Council members be returning? If “yes”, then there is not a Lame Duck council.
Ottawa underwent a Ward Boundary Review in 2020 that will apply during the election period and will come into effect on November 15, 2022. As a result, the number of wards will be increased from 23 to 24, meaning that the 2022-2026 Ottawa City Council will be comprised of 24 Ward Councillor and a mayor, for a total of 25 members.
This means that if 7 or more of the current Ottawa councillors will not be pursuing re-election, Ottawa City Council will become a Lame Duck council in the first period.
As of May 10, 2022, at least 8 incumbents are not running for re-election of their current posts, including Mayor Watson.1 Further, the total number of current ward councillors that are seeking election as Mayor may only be counted as one possible returning member for the purposes of determining whether Ottawa City Council will be a Lame Duck council in the first period. As a result, Ottawa City council will be a Lame Duck council starting on August 19, 2022.
In the second period, the analysis is done on election day after the election results are known. Where 7 or more existing councillors are not re-elected, Ottawa City Council will become a Lame Duck council.
It should be noted that where a Lame Duck council occurs in the first period, a Lame Duck council will necessarily occur in the second period as well. However, if a council is not Lame Duck council in the first period, it may still be Lame Duck council in the second. As Ottawa will be a Lame Duck council in the first period, it will also be a Lame Duck council in the second period.
Restrictions on Lame Duck Councils
Where a council is not a Lame Duck council, there are no restrictions on its powers in an election year.
Where there is a Lame Duck council, council may not:2
- Appoint or remove any officer of the municipality;
- Hire or dismiss any employee of the municipality;
- Dispose of any real or personal property of the municipality which has a value exceeding $50,000 at the time of disposal; and
- Make any expenditures or incur any other liability which exceeds $50,000.
There are no other restrictions on council’s authority.
There are, however, three exceptions to these restrictions.
First, nothing will prevent a council from disposing of property or other liability greater than $50,000 if that disposition was included in the most recent budget adopted by council before nomination day,3 (the City of Ottawa adopted its most recent budget on December 8, 2021). By way of example, if a contract for services for $60,000 was approved in the budget, then it could be executed during a Lame Duck period. If it was not approved, then the contract would need to wait until after the Lame Duck period expires.
Second, the listed restrictions do not apply to delegated authority, only to actions of council.4 Therefore, any officer of the municipality who obtained delegated authority for an action that would otherwise be restricted, prior to council becoming a Lame Duck council, is not restricted by the Act. The restriction on hiring and dismissing, for example, do not affect municipalities that have delegated this duty internally. Ottawa has done so.
Lastly, a Lame Duck council period will not prevent Ottawa’s City Council from taking emergency action.5
Therefore, in order to facilitate a smooth transition through the two potential Lame Duck council periods, Ottawa City Council would be wise to pre-approve its expenditures in its annual budget or otherwise delegate its powers before nomination day.
Are you in a situation that might be impacted by Ottawa’s Lame Duck council period? Certain contracts for services may be restricted during a Lame Duck period. You might also be impacted if you are buying municipal land or proposing to sell land to the City during a potential Lame Duck period. We’re here to help.
Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or if you want to discuss.
- As of May 10, 2022, municipal councillors that will not be seeking re-election are: Jean Cloutier (Alta Vista); Diane Deans (Gloucester-Southgate); Keith Egli (Knoxdale-Merivale), Mathieu Fleury (Rideau-Vanier), Jan Harder (Barrhaven); Catherine McKenney (Somerset); Scott Moffatt (Rideau-Goulbourn); Jim Watson (Mayor of Ottawa).
- Municipal Act, S.O. 2001, c. 45, s 275(3) [Municipal Act].
- Municipal Act, s 275(4).
- Municipal Act, s 275(6).
- Municipal Act, s 274(4.1).