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Your Guide to City Decision Making

Where the City Gets its Powers

The Canadian Constitution sets the responsibilities of the federal and provincial governments. The Constitution does not recognize local governments as a separate order of government, which means that cities like Burnaby do not get powers directly from the Constitution. Instead, the Province of British Columbia is responsible for the laws that cities in British Columbia follow. Most of the rules impacting Burnaby are found in the Local Government Act, the Community Charter, and other acts administered by the Provincial Ministry responsible for municipal affairs.

A Balanced Approach

The City of Burnaby, and other local governments across Canada, are based on the following:

  • Local democracy – a diverse, actively involved public plays an important role in shaping our community. The public identifies issues, gives feedback, and partners with the City on local matters. All Burnaby citizens are encouraged to get involved.
  • Mayor and Council make laws for the City. They make decisions on City operations and take care of public community assets.
  • Public Service (or City staff) provide research and professional advice to Council, and put into action Council’s decisions following City policies and standards.

Decision Making and City Council

Burnaby City Council is made up of one Mayor and eight Councillors who make decisions on behalf of the people who live in Burnaby. Dates for City Council meetings are set a year in advance – dates can be found on the City website. Agendas are made available online for the public at noon on the Friday before each Council meeting. Paper copies of Agendas are available for viewing at the Office of the City Clerk in Burnaby City Hall (4949 Canada Way). Issues for discussion and decision are usually identified by the public, through research, or in response to an emerging situation. Before Council makes decisions, it often asks for and reviews reports written by staff with knowledge of the subject matter. These reports can present different options for how the City may move forward, discuss any past decisions on the same subject matter, and make recommendations to help Council make their decisions.

City Council Decisions, Motions and Voting

At the beginning of a City Council meeting, Council members adopt the minutes of the most recent previous meeting and read any proclamations. A ‘proclamation’ is an official announcement. Then delegations (persons or groups wishing to speak to Council) are heard. Then the agenda is discussed, item by item. Members of Council can ask questions about items and discuss the issues.

Once an item has been discussed, a member of Council makes a motion (or a proposal for how to move the item forward) so that a decision can be made on the issue. Another member of Council is asked to ‘second’ (or agree with) the motion before it can be considered. Then all members of Council vote on the issue. Once a decision has been made, City staff are responsible for putting it into action.

Different states an item can be in:

  • Adopted: Council has adopted the item without any changes;
  • Amended: Council has made some changes to the item before adopting it. These changes are called ‘amendments’;
  • Deferred: Council has postponed making a decision about the item to a future meeting;
  • Referred: Council has sent the item to a committee or staff for further study or action, before Council will make a decision;
  • Received: Council has received the item for information only and will take no further action; or
  • Defeated: Council had decided it will not move forward with the item.

The majority of Council meetings, including discussions, questions, and voting are open to the public. In some cases, however, when Council needs to consider private information (such as legal or personal information), as allowed by law, City Council temporarily meets in a ‘closed’ session which is not open to the public.