Municipal politics in Canada tend to be a tricky situation, all told. This is primarily due to the method by which municipalities originate; they do not have, unlike provinces or the federal government, any constitutional legitimacy. Rather, municipalities are created by enabling legislation passed by the province.
Indeed, this puts municipalities in a very tricky situation- they have no inherent powers of their own. Their only authority derives from the province, and as a result, the province has the ability to (and does) override actions of municipalities when it feels the need to do so.
It also leads to the disturbing trend of 'downloading'- the province offloading responsibility for funding and providing services, like for example, social services or schools, to municipalities. Technically speaking, this is nothing more than a smokescreen; the actual legislative responsibility has not changed. Instead, the provincial legislature, in creating the appearance of an elected third level of municipal government, has attempted to 'mask', to some extent, its involvement in these programs. Of course, as an agent of the provincial government, the municipality is nothing of the sort- there are only two levels of constitutionally defined government.
To digress as to why this is important, it's important to realize that nations are entities, that is they owe no higher allegiance and have an exclusive right to governance inside their sphere. In a federal system (as opposed to a unitary system), sovereignty is divided between an overarching body and numerous lesser political bodies; for example, the United States of America and the individual states or Canada and the individual provinces. There may be some level of overlap, which is always a tricky situation and requires definition by the courts, but strictly speaking, there is no sharing of powers- powers belong to one or the other, unless the sovereign entity has declared itself to be sharing them. The only two groups of sovereign bodies in Canada are the provinces and the federal government- and only those two groups have exclusive right to governance inside their sphere. The municipality only governs under the authority of the provincial government.
What it does allow, however, is for the provincial government to somewhat immunize itself from public fallout. For example; suggest that the Province of Ontario decides to download education to the municipalities. Make no mistake; education is still a provincial responsibility, but as the municipality is a delegate of the province’s authority, the province is still ‘dealing’ with the issue. At this point, the province can strike all taxes pertaining to education, and it is up to the municipalities to both manage education and to institute taxes to provide for it.
With an elected municipal government, this may result in a nasty backlash against the municipality if it is forced to institute property taxes to pay for education, a backlash that may not exist against the province; and if the schools are mismanaged, similarly, the responsibility in the public eye tends to fall upon the municipality.
Actually, however, the municipality only has the power to tax as an agent of the province, and only has the power to act as an agent of the province. Indeed, any backlash directed against it is directed against the province as the two former is nothing more than an agent of the latter. But in the world of realpolitik and public perception, the two cannot be more different.
Realistically speaking, of course, this apparent division of labor only tends to make things worse, as any survivor of Mike Harris’s Ontario government can attest to. But it is one of the most misunderstood concepts in municipal governance these days, and is perhaps over utilized for exactly that reason.