Article: The CAO and Council--Leading Down, Out and Up--December 2016

Kevin Latimer, Q.C. and Brittany Larsen, Articled Clerk, Cox & Palmer

The most effective CAOs know how to lead 'down, out, and up.'

That’s the view of Brock University’s David Siegel. He has studied the traits that make for an effective CAO. He says that those who can manage “down” to staff and departments, “out” to community stakeholders (including the media), and “up” to Council members are the most effective.

It sounds simple, but it’s a difficult balance to achieve in practice. Mutual respect between Councils and their CAOs and frequent, thoughtful communications are also necessary components of a well-functioning municipality.

The sort of balance described by Prof. Siegel is outlined in the Municipal Government Act and in the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter. Under the legislation, the CAO is responsible to Council for the proper administration of the affairs of the Municipality in accordance with Council’s policies. The CAO is the means by which Council communicates with employees of the Municipality. In turn, Council provides direction on the administration, plans, policies and programs of the Municipality to the CAO.

Responsibilities of the CAO under the legislation include coordinating and directing the preparation of plans and programs to be submitted to the Council for the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of municipal property and facilities; ensuring the Municipality’s annual budget is prepared and submitted to Council; administering the budget after adoption; reviewing the drafts of proposed by-laws and policies, and making recommendations to Council with respect to them; as well as any other duties Council may assign.

The challenge faced by CAOs is balancing their relationship with Council while also effectively managing the administrative branch of the Municipality. Councillors make policies and are accountable to the public who elect them. However, the effective implementation of these policies is dependent on the administrative branch’s resources and abilities. In this way, the administrative branch is dependent on the Council to develop reasonable and achievable policy goals.

This reciprocal dependence is reflected in the legislation. The CAO is responsible to Council for the proper administration of affairs, but should also make recommendations to Council on proposed policies. In turn, Council provides direction to the CAO on administration of plans and policies.

Recognizing and understanding this mutual dependence is essential to a successful Council-CAO relationship. If Council and the CAO have differing expectations and goals are not properly communicated between them, things begin to fall apart. When there is not a clear understanding of the organization and each other’s roles, parties can become frustrated when their expectations are not met. This often opens the door to casting blame on one another when goals are not achieved, which undermines public confidence in the Municipality as a whole.

Leading up is an effective way to avoid these pitfalls. However, it is also identified by Prof. Siegel as the most difficult leadership role. In this role, the CAO’s power comes through influence. The CAO must act as a mediator and negotiator between Council and the administrative branch. In leading up, the CAO inspires confidence through expertise, objectivity, and professionalism.

Prof. Siegel also identifies the most effective balance between the Council-CAO relationship. He recommends parties recognize their overlapping roles, and understand that policy and administration should be complementary. Under this model, the CAO should be oriented to public interest and problem solving. To be successful this model also requires a focus on mutual accommodation and respect.

A recent series by George B. Cuff on the mayor-CAO relationship echoes Prof. Siegel’s model of the optimum relationship between Council and the CAO: “Not being cognizant that the relationship is a partnership, a two-way street, will limit the good that such a relationship can bring to the table”. Mr. Cuff is a former mayor and long-time advisor to municipalities. His recent series “A Healthy Mayor-CAO Relationship” can be found in the August – November 2016 issues of Municipal World magazine.

Prof. Siegel’s model CAO-Council relationship is reflective of the mutually dependent roles outlined in Nova Scotia’s legislation. In this way, the groundwork for effective municipal governance has already been laid. It is up to elected officials and administrators to use this foundation as an opportunity to function effectively and efficiently in the best interests of the communities they serve.

Kevin Latimer, Q.C., is a partner in the Halifax office of Cox & Palmer, and counsel to UNSM. He practices in the areas of municipal and planning law, administrative law, and public law litigation and can be reached at 902-491-4212 or e-mail at . Brittany Larsen is an articled clerk with Cox & Palmer.

Upcoming Workshops/ Events/Initiatives--December 2016


  • January 2017 Accountabiolity and Transparency:  Special Meeting of UNSM Membership--Some time in January--stay tuned!!
  • January 12th & 13th, 2017 - Financial Management Workshop:  For Elected Officials.  Click here for more information.
  • January 26th & 27th, 2017 - Financial Management:  Policies, Processes & Control System for Managers.  Click here for more information.

Other Announcements--December 2016

Annapolis County Moves to Improve Internet Capacity

The Municipality of the County of Annapolis has entered into an agreement with Mainland Telecom to negotiate a plan to design and build an open access back bone fibre within the County boundaries.

The County of Annapolis acted on an expression of Interest released in November of 2015, which received several worthy responses.

The negotiation process will begin immediately and it is the intention of the County of Annapolis to create infrastructure that has the ability to connect to other municipalities if the opportunity presents itself.

Headquartered in the Annapolis Valley, Mainland Telecom is an independent full service ISP with its own autonomous system and redundant data centers, able to offer innovative voice data and internet solutions that deliver high quality connections even in remote areas.

An internet backbone is a very high-speed data transmission line that provides networking facilities to high-speed Internet service providers and often to educational and government bodies. Backbone fibre is key infrastructure required to support long-term last mile solutions. This high-capacity backbone fibre will be superior in capacity, scope and forward-compatibility to past efforts to connect Annapolis County residents.

In addition to private capital from Mainland Telecom, the County intends use its own resources while also seeking funds from the new federal Connect to Innovate broadband infrastructure program.

The ultimate long-term solution is to extend fibre connection to every home and business in Annapolis County. However, the County is aware of the real need to address the lack of internet service in outlying communities in the shorter term as well.

For this reason, the County and Mainland Telecom also intend to support NCS Network's important efforts to create last mile wireless internet solutions to remote areas through an application to the Municipal and Community Rural High Speed Internet Funding, a one-time program which provides funding up to $75,000.00 from the province of Nova Scotia.

NCS Network, an independent wireless Internet service provider, is an End-to-End ICT solutions company specializing in best of breed last mile wireless solutions.

The Municipality will be keeping residents and businesses up to date as the projects progress.

For Additional Information contact:

John Ferguson, CAO
Municipality of the County of Annapolis
Ph: 902-526-0478


UNSM Announcements--December 2016

UNSM Signs Historic Agreement with Province

The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM) signed a historic agreement with the Province at the conclusion of their AGM on December 1.

The Agreement, signed by Municipal Affairs Minister Zach Churchill and UNSM President Mayor Cecil Clarke, outlines how the UNSM will partner with the Province on top priorities. The Agreement commits both parties to focus on a shared vision for healthy and vibrant communities in Nova Scotia.

“The Agreement represents a new and focused approach for municipalities and the Province to work together on a series of tangible items going forward where we will be able to monitor results over time to measure success” stated UNSM Past President Mayor Cecil Clarke. “I want to personally thank Minister Churchill for his vision and commitment to ensuring this Agreement became a reality”, Clarke further stated.

Key priorities in the Agreement include:

  • Developing a protocol outlining how the Province will consult with municipalities on legislative or regulatory changes that impact municipalities
  • Developing an accountability and transparency framework for municipal expense reporting
  • Modernizing the Municipal Government Act and Halifax Charter
  • Developing options for structural change that promotes municipal viability
  • Developing minimal land use planning standards
  • Continuing to promote economic development through the Regional Enterprise Networks.

For a copy of the Agreement or for further information visit



UNSM Resolutions Adopted at 2016 AGM

At the 2016 AGM, the UNSM membership passed a motion to approve a document outlining a more focussed resolutions process. This is an evolving document that can be changed over time. The document will be on the agenda for caucus and regional meetings held in 2017.

With a more focussed and streamlined process, the membership adopted five resolutions at the 2016 AGM. These, in addition to the items outlined in the Partnership Framework, will guide the work of the UNSM over the next year.

The resolutions are as follows:


1. Priorities

WHEREAS the UNSM was formed to be the collective voice for municipal governments in Nova Scotia; and

WHEREAS all municipalities in Nova Scotia are members of the UNSM; and

WHEREAS many of the challenges and opportunities facing municipalities require the Province to make changes to legislation, policy or regulations or require financial assistance beyond the capacity of the property tax system; and

WHEREAS the province relies on municipalities to contribute to many of its goals and objectives; and

WHEREAS both orders of government recognize stronger communities will make a stronger province, and a stronger province will make stronger communities; and

WHEREAS the UNSM continues to advocate for long term solutions to municipal sustainability; and

WHEREAS in order for both levels of government to succeed, both orders of government need to work in partnership on priorities; and

WHEREAS municipalities have come together to establish priorities to present to the Province, with the expectation that their priorities will be respected by the Province and responded to;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the UNSM present the following priorities to the Province of Nova Scotia:

  • Economic Development;
  • Rural Connectivity;
  • Fiscal Arrangements (Structural Change Alternatives, CAP, financial issues); and
  • Infrastructure; and


  • an agreement be developed committing the Province and municipalities to work together on the top priorities;
  • a formal protocol for collaboration be established; and
  • a semi-annual report on the progress of these priorities be distributed to members.


2. Economic Development

WHEREAS all municipalities support economic development through the provision of essential services such as water, sewer, transportation, waste disposal, protective and emergency services; and

WHEREAS the province established Regional Enterprise Networks, which were intended to be a two-way partnership between the province and municipalities; and

WHEREAS demographic and economic trends indicate a continued movement of people away from rural and small communities and indeed the province, indicating further challenges for municipalities in meeting their responsibilities; and

WHEREAS land use planning and regional land use planning can be tools for economic development;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the UNSM request that the Province:

  • provide and share economic expertise with municipalities and the Regional Enterprise Networks;
  • provide and assist in the analysis of economic development data and assist in the development of feasibility studies;
  • provide incentives for regional approaches, including land use planning; and
  • assist in the development of best regulatory practices.


3. Connectivity

WHEREAS Nova Scotia needs to attract and retain entrepreneurs and residents, and become more productive, innovative and competitive (as referenced in the “One Nova Scotia” Report of February 2014) especially in its rural areas; and

WHEREAS participation in the global digital economy requires access to robust and reliable Internet and cell phone service; and

WHEREAS in 2015, the UNSM passed a resolution urging the Nova Scotia Government to ensure the provision of an Internet service which provides a reliable high speed connection to all rurally-based businesses and households; and

WHEREAS the 2016-2017 provincial budget allocated $6 million to improve high-speed Internet service; and

WHEREAS the Province commissioned a report from EY, a global leader in advisory services, to evaluate the current situation and offer guidance on the way forward; which concluded that to achieve faster speeds in rural areas of the province will require a mix of technologies and require significant investment and partnerships with community groups, the private sector and all levels of government; and

WHEREAS on October 18, the Province initiated a project with Brightstar Canada and its partners to develop a strategy by March 2017 that will lead to better high-speed Internet service in more rural Nova Scotia communities; and

WHEREAS many parts of rural Nova Scotia continue to have little or no cell phone service; and

WHEREAS in today’s world instant communication via cell phone and Internet connectivity is an essential service in terms of business development, tourism, education, and attracting residents to our communities; and

WHEREAS effective cellular service can also mean the difference between life and death in emergency situations; and

WHEREAS the Province is developing a strategy including financial resources to address rural broadband but has no similar strategy for cell phone connectivity;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the UNSM request that the Province:

  • continue to work with the UNSM and municipalities to ensure high quality and affordable rural broadband across the province and to support innovative projects with municipalities and community groups;
  • work with the UNSM and the Federal Government to develop a cell phone strategy, including providing adequate financial resources, to ensure increased cell phone coverage across the province; and
  • work with the Federal Government to provide adequate funding to ensure connectivity success.


4. Financial Arrangements

WHEREAS the Towns Task Force report concluded the challenges facing municipalities were long standing and raised the question of whether the current municipal government structure, roles and responsibilities were viable in the long term; and

WHEREAS the Fiscal Review concluded the current provincial operating grant was inadequate to allow all municipalities to provide a basic level of service at a reasonable cost; that the grant-in-lieu-of taxes by NSPI was inappropriately being used by the province; that the province needed to financially compensate towns for provincial roads and arterials, that the province needed to take responsibility for the disposal of schools; that the province needed to take responsibility for mandatory payment as a provincial property tax, among other financial concerns; and

WHEREAS the province’s property cap program has distorted and increased the unfairness of the property tax, the primary revenue source of funding for municipal operations; and

WHEREAS economic growth requires municipal infrastructure and services, yet does not generate municipal revenues, as it does for the provinces through income and sales taxes; and

WHEREAS there are a number of municipalities in difficult financial situations; and

WHEREAS amalgamation has not been proven to resolve all financial issues;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the UNSM request that the Province:

  • work with municipalities to explore other governance models for shared service delivery and structural change, and provide support to municipalities to explore community interest and commitment to change;
  • support the tools provided in the MGA for structural change (amalgamation, annexation and dissolution) including funding in support of structural change;
  • form an all party working group to develop an education and awareness campaign to inform the public and other stakeholders of the impact of the Cap Program and to engage them in a discussion of how best to support rate payers;
  • consider the establishment of an innovation fund for municipalities to assist in projects aimed at increasing efficiencies; and
  • respond to the recommendations of the Fiscal Review, and work with UNSM and AMA to address the financial issues, including additional provincial funding, both in the short run and the long run so that municipalities are truly able to deliver their responsibilities with a reasonable tax burden.


5. Infrastructure

WHEREAS municipalities appreciate the financial assistance provided by the federal and provincial governments for investments in infrastructure; and

WHEREAS municipalities bear the greater responsibility for operating costs, maintenance and eventual replacement; and

WHEREAS the federal and provincial governments benefit through income and sales taxes from infrastructure investments; and

WHEREAS municipal revenues do not typically benefit from these investments; and

WHEREAS municipalities are in the best position to determine their own priorities but funding from other levels of government are directed at eligible categories determined by the federal or provincial governments; and

WHEREAS municipalities are developing asset management plans to identify wise investments;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the UNSM request that the Province ensures that:

  • federal funding programs are predictable and long term to ensure better planning and achieve greater efficiencies;
  • the required municipal share be decreased in recognition of the full life cycle and operating costs borne by municipalities;
  • funding be focussed on projects identified as priorities by municipalities; and
  • their asset management program is fully implemented in three years for all municipalities.



E-News Bulletin--December 2016-In This Issue

In this issue:

  • UNSM Board Report 
  • Upcoming Workshops/Events/Initiatives
  • UNSM Announcements
  • UNSM’s Gas Tax Fund Project Spotlights
  • Provincial Issues: Municipal Advisors
  • Federal Issues:  A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada, CRTC Establishes Fund to Attain New High-Speed Targets 
  • FCM:  FCM-Nova Scotia Board Members Update, Government of Canada Releases Details on New Rural Broadband Program, Statement by FCM President Clark Somerville on Quebec's Recognition of the Status of Municipalities as Local Governments, FCM Releases How-to Guide to Welcoming Refugees
  • Articles:  The CAO and Council: Leading Down, Out and Up - Kevin Latimer, Q.C. and Brittany Larsen, Articled Clerk, Cox & Palmer
  • Other Announcements: Annapolis County Moves to Improve Internet Capacity



President's Activities

For a list of the President's activities over the past months, click here.

Update on UNSM Board of Directors
UNSM Board of Director Outcomes from January meeting
Upcoming Workshops/Events/Initiatives
Provincial Issues
Federal Issues
Other Announcements