Although there is a difference in the meaning of councillor (from Latin “concilium” meaning “convocation, assembly” from “con” – ‘together’ + “calare” -‘summon’) and counsellor (from Latin “consilium” meaning “consultation or advice”), the two are nonetheless similar in that those elected to govern are called upon to give guidance and direction. What however is singular about a councillor is that he or she is inextricably involved in the administration of laws; that is, the councillor is constrained to act upon legal authority in the conduct of his or her office. If the issue about which a councillor is consulted is beyond the scope of governing legislation, the councillor is without jurisdiction and inevitably any assertion is without weight and therefore either irrelevant or misleading.
Setting aside the debate about how this country was wrested from the native inhabitants in the first place – whether by force or treaty – the government of Canada is founded upon The British North America Act, 1867 from which all subsequent legal authority flows. Sections 91 and 92 outline the rights of the federal and provincial governments respectively to make laws for our country. Section 92 gives to the provincial governments power to legislate with respect to “property and civil rights”. There have been a myriad of laws enacted by the Province of Ontario. Many of these laws – for example, the Municipal Act and the Planning Act – come within the purview of council for administration. The scope of provincial legislation is as broad as the subject of property and civil rights admits; but in every case the legislation is the governing document, the primary source of authority pursuant to which councillors act. These laws can now be readily viewed on the internet through elaws Ontario:
The primary legislation often includes the Regulations which are detailed refinement upon the general legislation. Other laws flow from the enactment of provincial legislation, including for example municipal zoning by-laws which in turn can be viewed at:
The interpretation of laws is governed by rules of construction which have at times been enunciated by the Courts where a challenge was mounted to one interpretation or another. This is generally called “judge made law” or the “common law”. There may in limited circumstances be reference to the Interpretation Act for further advice of general application to other legislation.
An acknowledgment of the authority by which a councillor acts affects not only what constituents are entitled to do but also what councillors are expected to do. Reference to the primary source of authority (that is, the particular Act, Regulation or Zoning By-law) will direct the councillor to the determination of what the Question is before attempting to state what the Answer is. Narrowing the focus will facilitate hitting the target.