Ten ways to hold local government accountable

By Lindsay Advocate

By Frank Morris, former sailor, retired banker, still learning how to get things done.

The age-old adage “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” continues to resonate, emphasizing the need for citizens to keep a watchful eye on what and how their governments perform. The world is witnessing a paradigm shift where public opinion and activism are providing an unprecedented opportunity and need for citizens to challenge authority and demand greater accountability.

However, the very nature of governance often lends itself to secrecy, making it difficult for citizens to access crucial information and understand the decision-making processes that impact their lives.

What can any one citizen do to hold local officials accountable? Quite a lot actually.

  1. Attend local government meetings: Attending council meetings is one of the best ways to hold elected and non-elected officials accountable. It allows you to hear first-hand what they’re saying and to voice your concerns.
  2. Write letters and emails: Writing emails to local officials is a great way to let them know that their constituents are paying attention.
  3. Use social media: Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook can be a powerful tool for holding local officials accountable. Use them to share your views and to connect with other concerned citizens.
  4. Organize protests and rallies: Organizing protests and rallies is another effective way to hold local officials accountable. These events can draw attention to specific issues and put pressure on officials to act.
  5. Contact the media: News outlets can help spread the word about issues and hold officials accountable for their actions.
  6. File complaints: If you have a complaint about a local official or department, you can file a complaint with the appropriate city office. This can help ensure that your concerns are taken seriously, and that action is taken to address the issue. All municipalities have a mechanism for registering and responding to complaints.
  7. Use public records requests: As a rule, city officials are happy to provide you with official records and to respond to your questions. On occasion however, you might have to resort to a more formal request using the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA).
  8. Contact the Ontario Ombudsman: When you’ve failed to resolve an issue through the city’s complaint process, it’s time to turn to the Ombudsman’s Office. “The Ontario Ombudsman promotes fairness, accountability and transparency in the public sector by investigating public complaints and systemic issues within his jurisdiction.”
  9. Vote: You can’t overlook this simple but effective way to hold local officials accountable. By voting, you can help elect individuals who represent your values and priorities. It’s never been easier with the introduction of online voting, even though the opportunity and privilege to vote only comes along every few years.
  10. Run for office: Last but not least, running for office is maybe the best way to hold local officials accountable. As someone once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”


  1. David Webb says:

    Excellent suggestions Frank. I believe that our local municipal government is doing a pretty good job considering the size and nature of our city, the complexity of provincial regulations and the state of the economy. That said, even though I am not an elected official, I think it is my responsibility as a citizen/taxpayer to hold the city accountable.
    The city has stated principles of accountability, good governance, transparency and open data, however I am not sure the operational culture of the organization has fully adopted those. The city states that its Data is Open (publicly sharable) by default, however my experience belies that. For example, in an effort to understand how the city spends its money, I requested procurement data through Freedom of Information. The request was denied and I now have an active appeal through the Privacy Commission. The issue is that the records of procurement needlessly contain protected information which makes the records not available for citizens to view. The financial processes were created with little/no thought to public transparency. A very simple procedural/clerical change makes that data fully open and their procurement activity transparent to the public.

    The city currently has Service improvement as an active priority. They wish to hear service experiences and feedback from citizens in order to make improvements. Recently the city created on online service request dashboard to let people know how many of each type of service is being requested. This is a great start, however the dashboard does not report how long each request took so that people might have an expectation for the next service request they make. I think the city really needs to review all of their services to determine if each is still required and what level of service is appropriate/affordable (ie how long to deliver, budget impact, etc..). It is entirely possible that the city dedicates more resources to some services than is required and less than required to others. It is only by setting standards, measuring performance and reporting that services can be improved.

    With the advent of video council and committee meetings it is very easy for citizens to stay in tune with city governance – much easier than attending in person and if you miss the meeting it is recorded and can be played later at https://www.youtube.com/@CityofKawarthaLakes/videos.

    Two suggestions to add to Frank’s great list-

    1) get onto the city website and snoop around, there is a ton of interesting information there that can educate and inform citizens
    2) stand for a city committee – great way to be involved without a huge time commitment.

  2. Yes, and I have asked them to open comments on YouTube, as well.

  3. Frank, my understanding is that any complaints about the mayor are heard by CAO Ron Taylor and any complaints about CAO Ron Taylor are heard by the mayor.

    I guess a citizen could make a complaint about the mayor to the Integrity Commissioner or the Ombuds but according to your research, how would a citizen, hypothetically, make a complaint about the CAO?

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