The first decision out of Saskatchewan’s Court of Queen’s Bench in 2020 comes as a cautionary tale for municipalities. Justice McMurtry’s decision reinforces the importance for municipalities to play by the rules of their own prescribed bylaws and procedures in consideration of subdivision/land use applications.

The Saskatchewan Safety Council (the “SSC”) was looking to develop land in the Rural Municipality of Sherwood No. 159 (the “RM”) and as a part of that process, was required to make a subdivision/land use application. Preliminary discussions between the SSC and the RM about servicing the land and the costs associated eventually stalled. In an effort to move forward, both the SSC and the RM agreed to refer the servicing agreement issues to the Saskatchewan Municipal Board (the “SMB”) for determination.

However, before the servicing issue came before SMB, the RM Council passed a Resolution pre-emptively denying SSC approval of the contemplated land use application. At that time SSC had not made any application for land use approval. RM also notified the SMB that the SSC’s appeal to the SMB regarding servicing had become moot as a result of the Resolution.

The SSC applied to the Court to have the Resolution quashed, arguing that the RM had breached its own statutory imposed bylaws in denying the contemplated application. Under both The Municipalities Act and The Planning and Development Act, municipalities are required to outline their process for receiving and deciding land use applications. The RM had a specific process outlined in their Bylaw 18/17.

In its decision, the Court highlighted its limited reviewing power in quashing resolutions, while also pointing to case law setting out the duties of public decision-making bodies, including municipalities. As demonstrated in the case of Congrégation des témoins de Jéhovah de St-Jérôme-Lafontaine v. Lafontaine (Village), 2004 SCC 48, a reviewing court is not to interfere where a municipality acts honestly and within the limits of its delegated statutory powers.

In this case, the RM breached its own bylaws and process to receive and consider land use applications. The Court did not look kindly at the whole of the RM’s actions: circumventing the appeal to the SMB, failing to follow its own procedure, and determining a land use question without having an application before it. This led the Court to the conclusion that the RM Council acted “unreasonably and outside the legislative schemes” found in both The Municipalities Act and The Planning and Development Act and the Resolution was quashed.

This case emphasizes the importance of ensuring that municipalities act honestly in making fair governance choices by upholding their own prescribed bylaws and procedures in consideration of subdivision/land use applications.