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Québec municipal government north of the 55th parallel

The Québec Inuit have seen many changes in their long history, especially over the last few decades. One of these major changes was the introduction of municipal government in the seventies. During the negotiations which led to the signature of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA), the Inuit asked the Québec government for local and regional administrations that were non-ethnic. According to chapters 12 and 13 of the Agreement, the Québec government committed itself to submitting to the National Assembly legislation containing the appendices or schedules to these chapters dealing with local and regional government north of the 55th parallel.

The Act respecting Northern Villages and the Kativik Regional Government (RSQ, c. V 6.1) (Loi sur les villages nordiques et l'Administration régionale Kativik) adopted in 1978, establishes municipal government in a territory almost as big as France, a territory of 500 000 km2 occupying a third of the area of Québec. The population was and is, in the majority, Inuit. It was certainly the first time in Canada and possibly the world, where a native population gave itself a public non-ethnic government.

Local government: the northern villages

Twelve of the thirteen Inuit communities existing at the time were incorporated as municipalities between December 1979 and June 1981. The thirteenth community, Puvirnituq, was incorporated as a municipality in September 1989. A fourteenth village, Umiujaq on baie d’Hudson, was built from the ground up. It was incorporated December 20, 1986. These fourteen municipalities dot the northern Québec shoreline, from Kangiqsualujjuaq on the rivière George on the eastern shore of baie d’Ungava all around the péninsule d’Ungava to Kuujjuarapik in the south eastern part of baie d’Hudson.

Northern villagesPopulationArea (km2)
Akulivik 569 79,37
Aupaluk 186 32,93
Inukjuak 1 748 64,45
Ivujivik 387 36,59
Kanqiqsualujjuaq 779 36,23
Kangiqsujuaq 636 12,47
Kangirsuk 481 58,73
Kuujjuaq 2 386 390,33
Kuujjuarapik 605 7,46
Puvirnituq 1 599 111,00
Quaqtaq 342 26,49
Salluit 1 348 14,33
Tasiujaq 246 68,08
Umiujaq 468 25,50
11 780 963,96
Kativik Regional Government 499 200,25

Source: Répertoire des municipalités, 2011

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Some particularities of the northern villages

A northern village municipality has essentially the same powers as other Québec municipalities: delivery of services, town planning, public security, public hygiene, recreation and culture, etc. The municipal council expresses its decisions through resolutions and by-laws. It must follow the procedures set out in its constituent law, such as notices of motion and adoption by majority vote. The municipality is subject to rules concerning the awarding of contracts and public tenders. A northern village municipality can be sued.

There are, however, certain differences that distinguish northern villages from other Québec municipalities.

1. Elections

As elsewhere in Québec, the municipal council of a northern village is composed of a mayor and councillors, generally six. Contrary to other municipalities in Québec, the mandate of the council is three years. The election is held on the first Wednesday of November every three years (section 66 of the Act respecting Northern Villages and the Kativik Regional Government).

"Every natural person of full age and Canadian citizenship who is not legally disqualified may be nominated, elected or appointed a member of the Council of the municipality if he has been domiciled or ordinarily resident in such municipality for at least 36 months." (section 19)

The requirement of 36 months residence in order to be a candidate for municipal council was the only concession the Inuit asked for as regards their native specificity. As a matter of fact, non-Inuit were elected to municipal councils from the very first elections.

The right to vote in a municipal election is accorded to every natural person not affected by disqualification laid out in the law. Every natural person of full age and Canadian citizenship has the right to be entered on the electoral list if he or she has been domiciled or ordinarily resident in the municipality for at least twelve months before the date of the election (sections 63 and 64).

Originally, during an election, one of the positions of councillor was identified as that of the "regional councillor". The person elected to that post, as well as sitting on the municipal council, was also member of the regional council of the Kativik Regional Government. This was later modified to allow the municipal council to designate its regional councillor. In this way, the council could nominate the mayor or any other council member to this post (section 251). By the same token, having the power to nominate the regional councillor, the municipal council could also change the nomination.

2. Financing northern villages

A northern village municipal council can impose taxes, require tariffs or compensation for services and can borrow. However, because of their very limited fiscal base, the Québec government also gives them an operating subsidy.

3. Municipal personnel

The municipal council must name a secretary-treasurer (section 43). It can also name any other officers it considers necessary as well as dismiss and replace them (section 44).

4. Municipal services

The northern villages give municipal services similar to those given in the south. However there are some differences in the way in which services are given. For example, water is delivered by truck and wastewater is collected in sewage trucks.

5. The physical environment

The physical isolation of the villages and the rigors of the climate present particular difficulties of which the most evident are the very high costs of municipal services, the limited choice of activities and the difficulties of getting supplies, especially of equipment.

The Kativik Regional Government

According to section 239 of the Act respecting Northern Villages and the Kativik Regional Government (Kativik Act), the inhabitants of the territory and the municipalities that have jurisdiction within the territory form a public corporation under the name of "Kativik Regional Government" (KRG).

In the early seventies, the Inuit had already begun discussions with the Québec government to explore the possibility of a "regional government" for the territory. The agreement in principle that preceded the James Bay Agreement provided for a regional government for the entire region north of the 55th parallel made up of the elected representatives of the communities and of each new community to be established in the territory. The original request in the negotiations was for a directly elected regional government with wide-ranging powers beyond the municipal field.

During the negotiations, the powers of the municipal organisation were limited to the municipal and supramunicipal fields. Indeed, in reading the Act, one can easily see its origins, the Cities and Towns Act, the Municipal Code of the period, the acts of the Montréal and Québec urban communities, of the Communauté urbaine de l’Outaouais and of the county councils of the early seventies which were the predecessors of the present-day regional county municipalities (MRC).

The structure

Subject to matters that are the jurisdiction of the executive committee, the council exercises the powers of the Regional Government. Each municipal corporation names a "regional councillor" who may be the mayor, but not necessarily. However, the mayor of the Naskapi village corporation (of the community of Kawawachikamach north of Schefferville) is ex officio the regional councillor for that community.

The regional council

The first meeting of the regional council of the Kativik Regional Government was held in Quaqtaq on the fourth Wednesday following August 2, 1978 (section 262). Regular meetings of the council are held at least once every three months (section 266). Because of the immense distances, and according to the provisions of section 265, "a regional councillor may participate, deliberate and vote at a regular meeting of the council by telephone or other means of communication".

The council may, by ordinance, establish the different departments and services of the Regional Government (section 297). It names the secretary, the manager and the treasurer (section 298). The responsibilities of these officers are laid out in sections 303 to 314.

The council names five of its members to form an executive committee (section 276) and names the chairman and vice-chairman from among those five.

The executive committee

The executive committee is similar to that of an MRC. It is responsible for the management of the affairs of the Regional Government (section 282). Amongst other things, the committee prepares and submits to council for its approval every demand for the appropriation of the proceeds of loans, subsidies and grants or for any other credit required, every demand for a transfer of funds or credits already voted and every plan of classification of functions and of the salaries attached to them (section 284).

The executive committee must submit to the council every draft contract involving an expenditure of more than 5 000 $ or an expenditure not provided for in the budget (section 286). If so authorised by council, the executive committee may perform any function of the council other than the passing of by-laws (section 286.1). It can also implement any agreement made by the council (section 286.2).

The chairman of the executive committee

The chairman of the executive committee must devote all his time to the service of the Regional Government. He cannot hold any other remunerative employment or hold any other public office except as a member of the northern village municipal council. However, he may, if he so chooses, resign as regional councillor and member of his local council. If he exercises this right, he may be renominated chairman of the executive committee at the end of his mandate without first having to be elected at the local level (sections 280 and 280.1).

If need be, and under the authority of the council, the chairman of the executive committee directs the affairs and activities of the Regional Government and its officers over whom he has a right of supervision and control (section 289).

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The powers of the Kativik Regional Government

According to section 351, the KRG has competence in the following matters:

a) local administration;
b) transport and communications;
c) police; and
d) manpower training and utilisation.

The Kativik Regional Government may make agreements with the Québec government, its ministries and public organisations such as municipalities and school boards. It may also, with the authorisation of the government, make agreements with the government of Canada and its ministries. The KRG can then carry out such agreements. It can have powers delegated to it by the Québec government and can itself delegate those powers to a municipality through an agreement with it (sections 351.1 and 351.2).

As was already mentioned, the original request of the Inuit was for a "regional government" with powers in several different sectors. The negotiations of the James Bay Agreement restricted those powers to the municipal and supramunicipal fields. However, with changes to the Kativik Act and the powers accorded by sections 351.1 and 351.2, the Kativik Regional Government exercises powers that greatly exceed the municipal field.

A very particular power

By virtue of section 244, the Kativik Regional Government acts as a northern village for any part of its territory not erected into a municipality. The by-laws adopted by the Regional Government by virtue of this section come into force on approval by the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Land Occupancy.

The Act respecting Land Use Planning and Development (RSQ, c. A-19.1) does not apply north of the 55th parallel. However, section 176 of the Kativik Act allows a municipality to order the "making of a master plan" of its territory or part of its territory. In September 1998, by by-law, the council of the Kativik Regional Government adopted its "Master plan for land use in the Kativik region: general aims of land development and general use policies". The Minister of Municipal Affairs approved the by-law on October 29, 1998.

This master plan has only been the first step in an ongoing process of land use planning for this immense territory. The implementation and the appropriate by-laws would follow in the months and years to come.

Financing of the Kativik Regional Government

In order to pay all or part of its expenses, the KRG may, by ordinance, require that each municipality of its territory pay an aliquot share of those expenses (section 386). The Regional Government has never imposed such a share. On the other hand, the ministère des Affaires municipales, des Régions et de l'Occupation du territoire finances a part of the operating costs of the Regional Government in order to ensure a minimum of stability for the operations of the regional council, to ensure the presence of the officers required by the Kativik Act and to ensure certain support services for the northern villages.

When the Regional Government signs an agreement with a government or a ministry, the agreement provides for the financing of the particular service. The Regional Government often includes administrative charges in those agreements.

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It is rather obvious that a northern village, isolated from the main urban centres, with a very restricted available base of human resources, with a weak financial base and limited financial resources, is restricted in its choices. Nevertheless, in spite of those difficulties, and in keeping with their image of Inuit solidarity and resourcefulness, these northern communities show a degree of autonomy in their operations that is to their honour. The municipality is the nerve centre of the community.

For its part, the Kativik Regional Government has not only progressed by improving its administrative and other capacities, it has evolved in a dynamic manner that has transformed it from the rather simple regional municipal structure of its early years into the polyvalent political and administrative organisation that it is today.

Prepared by

Thomas Hughes
Coordonnateur aux affaires autochtones
Ministère des Affaires municipales et de la Métropole

February 24, 1999

Updated in November, 2011

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