Municipal government of Toronto

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City of Toronto
Municipal government
Toronto, City of.svg
Municipal wordmark
City Hall, Toronto, Ontario.jpg
Toronto City Hall, the seat of government
FormationJanuary 1, 1998; 24 years ago (1998-01-01)
Governing actCity of Toronto Act
TypeSingle-tier municipality with a mayor-council system
City of Toronto
MayorJohn Tory
City managerPaul Johnson
Budget$13.53 billion (operating budget; 2020)
Toronto City Council
Head of councilJohn Tory
SpeakerFrances Nunziata
Members25 councillors plus the mayor
AppointerDirect election
SeatToronto City Hall

The municipal government of Toronto (incorporated as the City of Toronto)[1] is the local government responsible for administering the city of Toronto in the Canadian province of Ontario. Its structure and powers are set out in the City of Toronto Act.

The powers of the City of Toronto are exercised by its legislative body, known as Toronto City Council, which is composed of 25 members and the mayor. The council passes municipal legislation (called by-laws), approves spending, and has direct responsibility for the oversight of services delivered by the city and its agencies.

The mayor of Toronto – currently John Tory – serves as the chief executive officer and head of council. The day-to-day operation of the municipal government is managed by the city manager who is a public servant and head of the Toronto Public Service – under the direction of the mayor and the council. The government employs over 38,000 public servants directly,[2] as well as affiliated agencies. Its operating budget was CA$13.53 billion in 2020, including over $2.1 billion for the Toronto Transit Commission and $2 billion on emergency service agencies, such as the Toronto Police Service, Fire Services and Paramedic Services.[3]

Administration and governance[edit]

As the City of Toronto is constituted by, and derives its powers from, the province of Ontario, it is a "creature of the province" and is legally bound by various regulations and legislation of the Ontario Legislature, such as the City of Toronto Act, Municipal Elections Act, Planning Act, and others.[4]

The City of Toronto Act lays down the division of powers, responsibilities and required duties of the corporation. It provides that if the City appoints a chief administrative officer (the city manager), then that person shall be responsible for the administrative management and operation of the City.[5]

The Toronto Public Service By-law (TPS By-law), Chapter 192 of Toronto's municipal code, further strengthens the separation of the administrative components (the public service) and the political components (mayor and council) of the City of Toronto.[6]

In general, the council determines the services provided to residents and develops programs and policies, while the public service implements the council's decisions.[4]

Toronto City Council[edit]

The council is the legislative body of the City of Toronto. It is composed of 25 city councillors (each representing a ward of around 96,800 people), along with the mayor. Elections are held every four years, in October, with the mayor and councillors being elected by Canadian citizens who live or own property in Toronto. The mayor of Toronto, currently John Tory, serves as the political head of the City of Toronto.

The council is the only power able to enact Toronto laws, known as by-laws, which govern the actions of the corporation and/or matters within its jurisdiction, such as administration of the Canadian Criminal Code within its borders.[7]

It also forms several committees, including the Board of Health and "Community Councils", which hear matters relating to narrower, district issues, such as building permits and developments requiring changes to zoning by-laws. Community Council decisions, as well as those of the mayor, must be approved by the city council at regular sessions.[4]

Toronto Public Service[edit]

The Toronto Public Service is responsible for providing politically neutral advice to council, and delivering services to the City's residents. As of March 2022, there were nearly 40,000 active employees.[2]

The city manager (formerly the chief administrative officer), who reports to the mayor and the council, is the administrative head of the City of Toronto. While the city manager and public service are ultimately accountable to the council, the council may not give specific direction to public servants, and members of the council do not manage the day-to-day operations of the city.[5] The following senior staff report to the city manager:[8]

  • Four deputy city managers (including one as chief financial officer and treasurer), each responsible for a service cluster
    • Heads of divisions including general managers, executive directors and directors are responsible to the city manager through the deputy city manager of their respective cluster
  • Chief of staff
    • Chief communications officer and directors of executive administration, governance and corporate strategy, Toronto Office of Partnerships, Intergovernmental and Agency Relations, and the Civic Innovation Office are responsible to the city manager through the chief of staff
  • Chief people officer
  • Manager of the Indigenous Affairs Office

City officials reporting directly to the council:

  • Auditor general
  • Integrity commissioner
  • Lobbyists registrar
  • Ombudsman

The following officials report to the council for statutory purposes, but to the city manager for administrative purposes:

  • City clerk
  • City solicitor
  • Medical officer of health (through the Board of Health)


The City of Toronto represents the fifth-largest municipal government in North America. It has two budgets: the operating budget, which is the cost of operating programs, services, and the cost of governing; and the capital budget, which covers the cost of building and the upkeep of infrastructure. The City's capital budget and plan for 2019–2028 is CA$40.67 billion.[9]

Under the City of Toronto Act, the Toronto government cannot run a deficit for its annual operating budget.[10] The city's revenues include 33% from property tax, 6% from the land transfer tax, subsidies from the Canadian federal government and the Ontario provincial government, and the rest from other revenues and user fees.[9]

The council has set the limit of debt charges not to exceed 15% of the property tax revenues.[11] The city has an AA credit rating from Standard & Poor's, and an Aa1 credit rating from Moody's.[12][13][14] Toronto's debt stood at $3.9 billion at the end of 2016.[15] Capital expenditures are 39% funded from debt.[15]


The City of Toronto was incorporated in 1834, succeeding York, which was administered directly by the then-province of Upper Canada. The new city was administered by an elected council, which served a one-year term. The first mayor, chosen by the elected councillors, was William Lyon Mackenzie. The first by-law passed was An Act for the preventing & extinguishing of Fires.[16] The first mayor directly elected to the post was Adam Wilson, elected in 1859. Through 1955 the term of office for the mayor and the council was one year; it then varied between two and three years until a four-year term was adopted starting in 2006. (See List of Toronto municipal elections.)

To finance operations, the municipality levied property taxes. In 1850, Toronto also started levying income taxes.[17] Toronto levied personal income taxes until 1936, and corporate income taxes until 1944.[18]

Until 1914, Toronto grew by annexing neighbouring municipalities such as Parkdale and Seaton Village. After 1914, Toronto stopped annexing bordering municipalities, although some municipalities overwhelmed by growth requested it. After World War II, an extensive group of suburban villages and townships surrounded Toronto. Change to the legal structure came in 1954, with the creation of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto (known more popularly as "Metro") in 1954. This new regional government, which encompassed Toronto and the smaller communities of East York, Etobicoke, Forest Hill, Leaside, Long Branch, Mimico, New Toronto, North York, Scarborough, Swansea, Weston and York, was created by the Government of Ontario to support suburban growth. This new municipality could borrow money on its own for capital projects and it received taxes from all municipalities including Toronto, which meant that the Toronto tax base was now available to support the suburban growth. The new regional government built highways, water systems and public transit, while the thirteen townships, villages, towns, and cities continued to provide some local services to their residents. To manage the yearly upkeep of the new infrastructure, the new regional government levied its own property tax, collected by the local municipalities.[19]

On January 1, 1967, several of the smaller municipalities were amalgamated with larger ones, reducing their number to six. Forest Hill and Swansea became part of Toronto; Long Branch, Mimico, and New Toronto joined Etobicoke; Weston merged with York, and Leaside amalgamated with East York. This arrangement lasted until 1998, when the regional level of government was abolished and Etobicoke, North York, East York, York, and Scarborough were amalgamated into Toronto the "megacity". Mel Lastman, the long-time mayor of North York before the amalgamation, was the first mayor (62nd overall) of the new "megacity" of Toronto, which is the successor of the previous City of Toronto.[19]

Existing by-laws of the individual municipalities were retained until such time that new citywide by-laws could be written and enacted. New citywide by-laws have been enacted, although many of the individual differences were continued, applying only to the districts where the by-laws applied, such as winter sidewalk clearing, and garbage pickup. The existing city halls of the various municipalities were retained by the new corporation. The City of York's civic centre became a court office. The existing 1965 City Hall of Toronto became the city hall of the new megacity, while Metro Hall, the "city hall" of the Metro government is used as municipal office space.

Divisions, agencies and corporations[edit]

Toronto City Council is the primary decision making body defined in the City of Toronto Act. A number of divisions (core public service, or "Toronto Public Service"; responsible to the city council through the city manager), agencies (responsible through their relevant boards), and corporations (municipally owned through the city council) administer programs and services as directed by the city council.[20][21][22][23]


  1. ^ "Headley v. City of Toronto". Retrieved April 7, 2022.
  2. ^ a b "Workforce Statistics". City of Toronto. March 1, 2022. Retrieved June 27, 2022.
  3. ^ "Highlights from Toronto 2020 budget". February 19, 2020. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c "Introduction to Toronto's Government" (PDF).
  5. ^ a b "Memorandum from City Manager and City Solicitor to Mayor and Council RE: Notice of Motion MM11.9" (PDF).
  6. ^ "Toronto Public Service By-Law". City of Toronto. August 24, 2017. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  7. ^ "City of Toronto Act, 2006". Government of Ontario. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  8. ^ "Administrative Structure" (PDF).
  9. ^ a b "Budget 2017 Charts". City of Toronto. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  10. ^ "Toronto's Budget: A Decoder". Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  11. ^ "capital_financing.pdf" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 10, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2014.
  12. ^ Moloney, Paul (June 27, 2011). "Toronto debt $4.4B and rising". Toronto Star. Retrieved August 12, 2011.
  13. ^ "Toronto (City of)". Standard & Poor's Ratings Services. McGraw Hill Financial. Retrieved June 21, 2015.
  14. ^ Heitmann, Kathrin. "Toronto, City of". Moody's. Retrieved June 21, 2015.
  15. ^ a b "2015 Annual Report" (PDF). City of Toronto. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 30, 2017. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  16. ^ "Toronto in 1834". City of Toronto. Archived from the original on October 3, 2015. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
  17. ^ An Act to establish a more equal and just system of Assessment in the several Townships, Villages, Towns and Cities in Upper Canada, S.Prov.C. 1850, c. 67, s. 4
  18. ^ Sewell, John (April 2011). "Letter". The Walrus. Archived from the original on May 16, 2013. Retrieved March 18, 2013.
  19. ^ a b Sewell 2009.
  20. ^ "City of Toronto Administrative Structure (organizational chaart)" (PDF). March 10, 2021.
  21. ^ "Toronto Agencies and CorporationsMay-2020.pdf". May 2020.
  22. ^ "Staff Directory, Divisions & Customer Service". City of Toronto. August 4, 2017. Retrieved April 3, 2021.
  23. ^ "Agencies". City of Toronto. March 11, 2019. Retrieved April 3, 2021.
  24. ^ "Toronto Port Lands Company". City of Toronto. Retrieved February 15, 2022.


  • Sewell, John (1993). The Shape of the City: Toronto struggles with modern planning. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-7409-X.
  • Sewell, John (2009). The Shape of the Suburbs: Understanding Toronto's Sprawl. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802098849.

External links[edit]