Councillor Josh Matlow

Backgrounder to My Motion to Establish Toronto as a Charter City

City Charter Motion: Backgrounder



  1. City Council request the Government of Canada to provide a mechanism for the City of Toronto, and other municipal governments, to establish a City Charter that provides authority over “municipal issues” including, but not limited to, the following:
  2. a) Municipal elections
  3. b) Municipal governance structure
  4. c) Local land use and zoning decisions
  5. d) Local financial matters including the power to determine revenue sources, set tax rates, borrow funds, and allocate monies
  6. e) Personnel decisions

What is a City Charter?

  • Common in the United States, and elsewhere, Charter cities have supreme authority over “municipal affairs.”
  • Also referred to as “Home Rule”, a charter city’s law concerning a municipal affair will trump a state law governing the same topic

Charter City Powers

  • According to the National League of Cities (organization similar to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities) local governments under Home Rule are generally free from State interference in 4 areas:
    • Structural: power to choose the form of government, charter and enact charter revisions
    • Functional: power to exercise local self-government in a broad or limited manner
    • Fiscal: authority to determine revenue sources, set tax rates, borrow funds and other related financial activities
    • Personnel: authority to set employment rules, remuneration rates, employment conditions and collective bargaining

Other Jurisdictions

  • London was first granted a City Charter by Henry I in 1131 providing allowance to choose their own sheriff and judiciary – “no-one else shall be judge over the men of London“:

“Henry, by the grace of God King of England and duke of Normandy, to the archbishop of Canterbury, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, sheriffs and all his loyal subjects, French or English, throughout England, greetings…The citizens may appoint as sheriff whomever they want from among themselves and as judge whomever they want from among themselves to take charge pleas of the crown and supervise their conduct; no-one else shall be judge over the men of London.”

  • Many major American municipalities have had Charters for over a century providing independence from state government on local matters, including the 4 largest cities:
  • Los Angeles (1889)
  • New York (1897)
  • Houston (1905)
  • Chicago (1970)
  • California alone has 121 Charter cities


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