What are Natural Person Powers (NPPs)?
NPPs give municipalities the power to do what an ordinary individual can do under the law. For example, a person can give loans to another person, buy shares in a company, buy and use property for any purpose, and create or join non-profit organizations. These are all things the municipality cannot currently do or can only do in limited ways, as set out in the HRM Charter.
NPPs would not expand HRM’s taxation or by-law making powers. An individual cannot impose taxes or bylaws, so these are not natural person powers. Taxation and by-law powers would continue to be clearly spelled out in specific legislation.
How would NPPs change the HRM Charter?
The HRM Charter is a piece of provincial
legislation that sets out all of HRM’s powers and responsibilities (other Nova
Scotian municipalities are covered by the Municipal Government Act). If HRM
wants to do something, it must be included in the HRM Charter.
Right now, the HRM Charter has specific descriptions of what the municipality may or must do – aka, a “laundry list” approach. If the municipality were granted NPPs, the opposite approach would apply: instead of sections setting out what the municipality is allowed to do, the Charter would instead list what HRM is not allowed to do in certain areas. Anything not spelled out as a restriction would be permissible, if it fit into the things that a natural person could do.
Why does HRM want NPPs?
NPPs would create administrative efficiencies, giving the municipality more opportunity and flexibility to deliver programs and services. In the past when the municipality has wanted to try new initiatives it often has had to wait for the Province to amend the HRM Charter to give HRM clear authority, because there was not explicit permission in the HRM Charter. Some examples include:
· Solar City – Legislative change was needed to allow HRM to spend the funds to facilitate Solar City and assist private property owners to install solar panels while recovering the cost. NPPs would have allowed HRM to proceed with Solar City without waiting for legislative change.
· Property improvement grants to individuals – HRM may currently only provide home improvement assistance to individual properties if they are heritage properties located in Heritage Conservation Districts. If HRM had NPPs, it could consider grant programs for a broader range of reasons, and for properties located anywhere in the municipality.
· Urban reforestation – HRM’s Urban Forest Master Plan aims to increase the canopy cover of urban and suburban areas by planting new trees each year. A large amount of the land in these areas is in private hands; however HRM cannot give trees directly to private property owners. NPPs would allow HRM to provide trees to interested individuals to plant on their properties.
· Increased borrowing opportunities – currently HRM must receive Ministerial approval for any multi-year expense over $500,000. HRM also needs the approval of the Minister to borrow, regardless of the amount, and is limited to borrowing via a debenture issued by the Nova Scotia Municipal Finance Corporation. NPPs would remove these restrictions, increasing operational efficiencies by cutting down on the time needed to approve tenders and process expenses.
· Property management – Some municipalities with NPPs, such as ones in Ontario are able to act as mortgage lenders, leveraging their strong municipal credit ratings for property owners who may not otherwise qualify for funding. These mortgages are generally meant to encourage a public benefit such as extensive energy retrofits to homes or affordable home ownership. NPPs would give HRM this ability.
In short, the municipality would like more freedom to consider new ways to provide programs and services without depending on changes to legislation, which is a lengthy process and not guaranteed to happen.
Are there specific initiatives HRM is planning, if it gets NPPs?
Not at this time. The purpose of this
consultation is to ask residents what kinds of programs and tools they think
would be useful for HRM, if it were to receive NPPs.
Do any other cities have NPPs?
Yes. The majority of Canadian provinces
have given their municipalities natural person powers, including:
- British Columbia (all municipalities)
- Alberta (all municipalities)
- Saskatchewan (all municipalities)
- Manitoba (Winnipeg only)
- Ontario (all municipalities)
- Quebec (all municipalities)
- Yukon (all municipalities)
Saint John, NB also has natural person powers because it was incorporated as a city by a royal charter, instead of being established by provincial legislation.
Do municipalities with NPPs have any restrictions on their powers?
Yes. NPPs are always accompanied by some restrictions. These vary by province, but often include limits on financial assistance to business, borrowing limits, a ban on declaring bankruptcy, and stipulations around creating or participating in corporations. There may also be a general guideline ensuring municipalities do not use NPPs for initiatives unrelated to municipal purposes. For examples of restrictions in place across Canada, please see the policy rationale attached to the Council report .