In episode 2 of the Local Motive podcast, Rob Voigt talked about the words that we use, and the effect that they have on us as people, each other, and how we interact with municipal government. That’s not the only way that words affect municipal government though, as we have lots of terminology, some legislated, some just historical, that isn’t exactly transparent to most citizens. This is the first of an occasional series of posts to try and explain what some of that terminology actually means. We’re starting with a strange one that we often hear at election time – what on earth is a “Lame Duck”?

We hear about lame duck politicians regularly, normally in an American context – it refers to an official in the last days of their term in office, after their successor has been elected.

In Ontario municipal politics, the term is used a bit differently. It describes a Council that has limited decision powers for a period (either from nomination day, or from election day), because we know that less than ¾ of them will be elected. Technically, this is called ‘Restricted Acts after Nomination Day’ in the Municipal Act.

In Meaford, we’re a ‘lame duck Council’ now, because we know that a maximum of five existing members of Council can be re-elected and three quarters of seven is 5.25, which gets rounded to 6. How do we know that? Well, Mayor Clumpus isn’t standing for election, and both Councillor Kentner and Councillor Vickers are running for Mayor, so only one of them can be elected to the new Council.

So what are the limited powers I hear you ask? Well, actually, not much. Council can continue with most of their business, dealing with development applications, policies, new by-laws and so on. There are just three things they can’t do:

  1. Approve any unbudgeted spending – things that were approved in the annual budget are okay
  2. Hire or fire an ‘official’ of the Municipality (think CAO, Clerk etc.)
  3. Buy or sell land

In general, Council doesn’t do any of those things very often, so it’s pretty easy to get through to the start of the new Council in November. However, if something does come up, Council has given the CAO authority to spend a certain amount of money and deal with any hiring or firing that needs to be happen.

That’s ‘Lame Duck’ in a nut shell – you can find a bit more detail in our recent Council report.

What other municipal terms confuse? Tell us by e-mailing



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