Municipal Government, Elections & Budget Setting

Municipal Governments provide valued public services and are our rural Ontario partners.

Municipal services include maintenance of many (but not all) local roads, garbage & sewage & water services, fire and public health services, planning and bylaws and permitting.

What if you don’t have a Municipality?

A local services board (LSB) is a volunteer organization that has the authority to deliver approved services to residents in rural areas of Northern Ontario where there is no municipal government. Learn more: Also, read a summary about LSBs (PDF, 1 page; 2022) from our member group, the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association.

In Ontario, the municipal level of government delivers some of our most prized public services. However, municipalities are also a creature of the Province, owing their very existence, their powers and obligations to the Province under the Municipal Act.

This level of government may be described as “municipal” (e.g., Town of Espanola; Township of Tay); “single-tier” – that is, certain cities that are geographically within a county, but are governed distinctly (e.g., City of Kawartha Lakes; City of Greater Sudbury); “upper-tier” – that is, a county or regional government (a federation of the local municipalities) that provides some municipal services (e.g., Bruce County); or “lower-tier” – that is, a municipality underneath an upper-tier government (e.g., Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula). The powers of municipal governments are determined by the provincial government.

image above: this example from Hastings Highlands (2023) provides a visual overview of the different services provided by the federal, provincial, Upper and Lower Tier Municipal levels of government


For more, including links to municipal websites, visit the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. Also, for more about municipalities, review a slide presentation About Local Government (PDF, 53 slides) from 2016 by the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario.

FOCA is the largest non-farm landowner group in rural Ontario, representing the 250,000 waterfront property-owning families across the province.

For our Municipal partners: FOCA’s 50,000 member families are YOUR rural residents, and thriving and sustainable rural communities are our common goal! We encourage you to:

  • Read FOCA’s new Economic Impact report about the  $11.44 billion annual contribution of waterfront property owners across Ontario. 
  • Download an overview About FOCA & our Municipal Partners (PDF, 2 pages).
  • Sign up to receive the FOCA Elert (monthly e-news) for the pulse of cottage country, including quick policy updates & regional event notices. Got news to share with rural residents? Send it to FOCA.

FOCA has print and digital resources for our municipal partners to circulate about: cottage country septic systems, healthy waterfronts, invasive species, lake planning, and much more. 

banner: Latest News

January 2023 – FOCA joined 1600 delegates at the annual Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Conference. This year’s theme was Breaking New Ground, and included the opportunity to meet and hear from Ontario’s Cabinet, along with elected municipal officials and senior staffers.

Important issues discussed at ROMA 2023 included land use planning, rural health care, electricity planning, affordable housing and more. FOCA met with our colleagues at Conservation Ontario, Hydro One, MPAC, Good Roads, Emergency Management Ontario and others.

FOCA presented to a full room on the topic of short term rentals (STR) in rural Ontario. Learn more in FOCA’s recent STR report, posted to our webpage: (image above: the crowd at the STR session at ROMA 2023)

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Vote for Your Future: Municipal Elections

FOCA encourages all waterfront property owners to participate in the democratic process at election time and throughout your representatives’ terms of office.

The most recent Ontario municipal elections took place on Monday, October 24, 2022. Review election results and vote statistics from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. 

Ontario Municipal elections happen in October every 4 years. The term of office for elected representatives is December 1st of that year to November 30th, four years later. (Current term: 2022 to 2026)

FOCA encourages permanent and seasonal waterfront property owners to get engaged in municipal elections. Learn who in your community best represents your position on the issues that mean the most to you and your family. Also, engage others in your waterfront community, and “get-out-the-vote” at election time.

For engagement tips, FOCA members can access our Association Vote Toolkit, watch our July 2022 webinar about getting out the vote in your waterfront community, and download FOCA’s Municipal Engagement Guide:

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Additional municipal election & engagement resources for everyone:

Who can vote in a municipal election?

Anyone can vote in a municipal election who, on the day of the election, is:

  • 18 years of age or older;
  • a Canadian citizen; and
  • either a resident of the municipality or a property owner or tenant, or the spouse or same sex partner of an owner or tenant in the municipality, during a specified time just before the election.

To be able to vote, your name must be on the list of eligible voters. If you are on the voters list, you should receive a card in later October of the election year, telling you that you are eligible to vote. Call your municipality for assistance if you do not receive your card but think you are eligible to vote. Close to municipal election time, you can check if you’re already on the voter list by using the online Voter Lookup tool.

Seasonal property owners: Where can you vote in a municipal election?

image: asterix buttonIn Ontario municipal elections, you are entitled to vote where you own or rent property. Therefore, plan to vote at your cottage riding as well as your permanent residence.

FAQ: “My family owns a cottage. Can I vote in that municipality?” In order to qualify as a non-resident elector, you (or your spouse) must be the owner or tenant of the property, or their spouse/common-law partner. If a family member who is not your spouse is the owner, even if you have use of the cottage, you would not qualify as a non-resident elector in that municipality. If the cottage is owned by a trust, you would not qualify as a non-resident elector.

How can you vote?

Ask your municipality about the availability of advance polls or online voting. Now is the time to check on the options available to your association members for municipal voting in the next election (2026). Does your municipality offer online or phone options? The deadline to pass by-laws authorizing the use of alternative voting, such as by mail or by internet, and vote-counting equipment was May 1st, 2022 for the 2022 election.

You can find many municipal election resources from the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, including election guides for voters and for candidates, as well as some information about voter identification requirements.

How can you get involved in the municipal election?

  1. Ensure you are on the voter’s list! Visit
  2. Get on FOCA’s Elert list for cottage country updates on election issues.
  3. Host a local candidates’ event prior to the election. Ask your questions!
  4. Vote in your Municipal Election.

FOCA’s challenge to you:

Want to make a difference in your rural community? Do you have leadership skills? Think you have something to contribute to the local community? Consider running for municipal office! Local elections are often decided by only dozens or a few hundreds of votes.

Think about all the services your municipal government is responsible for providing: roads, public transit, child care, local policing, water and sewers, ambulances, parks and recreation. Help to bring the focus onto the issues that matter most to you and to your lake association. We need more lake and river champions in municipal office, where they can stand up for healthy, thriving and sustainable communities. Keep FOCA updated if you decide to run for municipal office.

Related Earlier News: 

2022 – Thinking about running for one of Muskoka’s municipal councils? Do it! (

2021 – Are you “election curious? Visit: Municipal Campaign School to plan to run for office and expand diversity in Ontario’s elected officials.

Getting Involved in Municipal Budget Setting:

Some parts of Ontario have two lower- and upper-tier municipal governments, with separate budgets and separate budget processes.It is important we all understand the process for setting municipal budgets, and how we can get involved to help shape the future of our communities. Every year, municipal councils call public meetings early in the calendar year to get input and to review drafts of their revenue and spending plans. These meetings are a chance for residents to meet the Council, learn about the budgets and have a say in setting the municipalities priorities for the year(s) ahead. Public participation in the budget-setting process is important because a municipal budget is a policy and planning document that outlines the city’s priorities, and is always a balancing act between cost saving, and delivering a high level of services.

There are usually 2 main components to a municipal budget:

  1. The operating budget covers the costs of maintaining services as libraries, recreational centres, parks, snow removal, road maintenance and municipal fire services.
  2. The capital budget is what the city sets aside to cover the costs of building and renewing our libraries, roads, parks, recreational centres, arenas, pools and seniors’ centres.
Some parts of Ontario have two sets (lower- and upper-tier) of municipal government, with separate budgets and separate budget processes. The upper-tier has responsibility for a different set of services which may include policing, water and wastewater services, regional roads, ambulance services, waste management, public health, Ontario Works, children’s and seniors’ services, and social housing. Examples of two-tier municipalities include the District of Muskoka and the County of Haliburton.

Three factors influence the amount of property taxes you pay:

(and your Municipality only has control over one of them):

  1. the municipal property tax rate
  2. the assessed value of your property – determined by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation
  3. the education tax rate – set by the Province.

More than one third of your property tax bill is effectively set or mandated by the Province. Education taxes are set by the Province and collected by the municipality. As well, the municipality is required to administer provincially mandated social services over which it has limited or no control.

According to the Fraser Institute a few years ago, the average Ontario family pays about 93 per cent of its tax dollars to the provincial and federal government, while the remaining seven per cent is paid to municipal governments. Given the range of services we enjoy each day and their significance to the quality of life in most municipalities in Ontario — that’s not a bad deal.

Your Municipal Budget Explained:

The following is adapted from notes by Rachel Tyczinski, past Corporate Affairs Officer (now Clerk) of the Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie

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Please note: the following is archival material, and some links to third-party resources may no longer be active.

2022 – Download a 2-page overview (PDF) from FOCA about Municipal Elections – a quick overview of what you need to know

January 2022 – FOCA was on hand (virtually) at the 2022 Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Annual Conference (Jan 23-25) for the unveiling of a new “Model of Innovation and Resilience” outlining opportunities for rural and Northern Ontario in a Post-COVID World. Among many recommendations for future success is that rural communities should develop deliberate strategies to help weave all residents (including cottagers) into the social, cultural and employment fabric of the community. Read the whole report, here:

November 2021 onward: Municipal partners – please take the FOCA/OGRA road survey – FOCA and our partners at the Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA) are conducting a survey of municipal government partners to help quantify the extent of private roads across Ontario. Click here to take the survey. There is no hard end-date on the survey (we want to collect as much information as possible, and not exclude anyone!) but we’re hopeful to have as many responses as possible before end of the calendar year. Please ensure your municipality is included in the results!

October 9, 2018 –   Muskoka Lakes Association responds to questions about their ‘Stance on Candidate Endorsement’ OPINION (Bracebridge Examiner)


October 11, 2018 – No contest: Why it matters when candidates run unopposed On municipal-election day, hundreds of candidates will win by acclamation in communities across Ontario — but what does that mean for democracy?

September 11, 2018 – Ottawa-area voters – Ontario Municipal Elections in our National Capital and Beyond   (Ottawa Riverkeeper)

May 18, 2018 – FOCA releases the “Vote for your Future Toolkit” for Lake Associations! See details, above.

August 21, 2018 Why three elections in two years could mean a ‘lost year’ for municipalities (TVO)

March 25, 2018 – A civil election campaign is vital to encourage women in politics (Toronto Star)

March 6, 2018 – Candidates have less time to file for municipal election bid (Kingston Whig-Standard)

Environmental priorities in your municipality:

January 2016 – Official Plans (OP) are prepared by the municipal and/or regional government to direct and guide the local municipality (or County/District) in policy planning and physical planning on a very broad basis. An Official Plan has two basic functions:

  • It establishes a vision in which land use planning protects and enhances the local landscape, lifestyle and sense of community.
  • Using a strategic approach to land use planning, the OP sets out the general direction for planning and development by prescribing strategic goals, objectives and policies.

Further guidance for the actions and decisions of a municipal government may be in the form of municipal strategic plans, municipal budgets, economic development planning, sustainability plans etc. Considerations for the environment can be embedded in these documents, or may be the subject of other municipal documents or specific commitments.

Official Plan DysartSpurred on largely by the “Blue Dot” campaign launched by the Suzuki Foundation, hundreds of Canadian municipalities have passed resolutions supporting their citizens’ right to a healthy environment. As of January 1, 2016 many Ontario municipalities have signed such a declaration. One example from cottage country is that of the Municipality of Dysart et al (PDF, 1 page; 2015). Ontario signatories to a “healthy environment” declaration (and the date the decision was taken) are listed below. Is your municipality on board?

Hamilton, ON  02-25-2015
Erin, ON  04-21-2015
Ajax, ON  04-23-2015
St. Joseph, ON  05-05-2015
King, ON  05-11-2015
Kitchener, ON  06-01-2015
Springwater, ON  06-01-2015
Waterloo Regional Municipality, ON  06-03-2015
Waterloo, ON  06-22-2015
Burlington, ON  07-13-2015
Wellesley, ON  07-13-2015
Kingston, ON  07-14-2015
Oakville, ON  07-20-2015
Muskoka Region, ON  07-20-2015
North Dumfries, ON  08-10-2015

Windsor, ON  08-24-2015
Wilmot, ON  08-31-2015
Brantford, ON  08-31-2015
Woolwich, ON  09-08-2015
Meaford, ON  09-16-2015
Guelph, ON  10-27-2015
Highlands East, ON  11-09-2015
Oshawa, ON  11-09-2015
Algonquin Highlands, ON  11-19-2015
Toronto, ON  12-09-2015
Milton, ON  12-14-2015
Stratford, ON  12-14-2015
Saugeen Shores, ON  12-14-2015
Dysart et al, ON  12-14-2015