Challenging Municipal By-Laws

In Catalyst Paper Corp. v. North Cowichan (District), the Supreme Court of Canada considered a challenge to a by-law by considering whether it was reasonable having regard to process and whether it falls within a range of possible reasonable outcomes.

It is important to remember that requirements of process, like the range of reasonable outcomes, vary with the context and nature of the decision-making process at issue. Formal reasons may be required for decisions that involve quasi-judicial adjudication by a municipality. But that does not apply to the process of passing municipal bylaws. To demand that councillors who have just emerged from a heated debate on the merits of a bylaw get together to produce a coherent set of reasons is to misconceive the nature of the democratic process that prevails in the Council Chamber. The reasons for a municipal bylaw are traditionally deduced from the debate, deliberations and the statements of policy that give rise to them.

Nor . . . is the municipality required to formally explain the basis of a bylaw. As discussed above, municipal councils have extensive latitude in what factors they may consider in passing a bylaw. They may consider objective factors directly relating to consumption of services. But they may also consider broader social, economic and political factors that are relevant to the electorate.

This is not to say that it is wrong for municipal councils to explain the rationale behind their bylaws. Typically, as in this case, modern municipal councils provide information in the form of long-term plans. Nor is it to say that municipalities performing decisional or adjudicative functions are exempt from giving reasons as discussed above.

Taking all these factors into account, the trial court, affirmed by the Court of Appeal, concluded that the bylaw fell within a reasonable range of outcomes. The Supreme Court of Canada agreed. The adoption of the Tax Rates Bylaw 2009, Bylaw No. 3385 does not constitute a decision that no reasonable elected municipal council could have made.