How to Become a City Councillor


Becoming a city councillor requires the right combination of leadership skills, community engagement, and of course, charisma.


If you have a keen interest in the well-being of your community, you’re not afraid to get out there and shake some hands, and you aren’t afraid of making tough decisions, then you may be a great fit for a seat on your city’s council.


So read on if you'd like to know more about what you’d be doing as a city councillor, how much you could earn, and what you need to do to land the job!



Basic Requirements for Getting Into This Profession

Each province or state has a set of laws and regulations governing the eligibility requirements for running as a city councillor in their jurisdiction. For example, if you’re planning to run for council in Edmonton, you will have to meet the basic legal requirements set by the province of Alberta.


Although these laws and requirements can vary from city to city and town to town, they typically include:


• Being a Canadian citizen (or American citizen, if running in the United States)

• Being at least 18 years of age (21 in the United States)

• Being resident of the city or municipality in which you are running

• Not being legally prohibited from voting

• Not disqualified by any other legislation from holding municipal office



Education Needed to Become a City Councillor

The educational requirements can vary quite a bit from city to city, and town to town. They are typically set by the province or state the city or town is located within.


Most municipalities require at least a high school diploma, and some require you to have an undergraduate degree. Be sure to check with your local government office to clarify the educational requirements if you plan on running for city council.


Success Tip: Regardless as to whether or not its an official requirement, pursuing an undergraduate degree in one of the following areas can be of great help for becoming a councillor, as they can teach you about topics, strategies and thought processes that are closely related to municipal politics:


• Business Administration

• Economics

• Management

• Philosophy

• Political Science/Politics

• Public Administration





Experience You'll Need

There are no formal work experience requirements for becoming a councillor in most cities in Canada and the United States. That’s not to say that having experience in certain areas isn’t important, both in the eyes of the voters, and in terms of increasing your level of competence for the role.


Since name recognition is so critical for an election campaign, it helps a great deal if you are well known in your community. Working with community groups, typically in a position of leadership, is a great way to accomplish several things at the same time: increase your name recognition, have a positive impact on your community, and give you valuable leadership experience in the eyes of voters, and for your professional development.


Many active city councillors in many regions also have backgrounds in other roles that involve managing people, budgets, and the needs of many stakeholders. Such roles can be found throughout the worlds of non-profit and public administration, as well as in business.


It’s important to mention, that whatever professional background you’re coming from, you mot cities will not allow you to have a substantial conflict of interest and run for city council. For example, if you own a company that has a contract with your city, you won’t be able to run.



Personal Traits You’ll Need to Succeed

In order to get elected to council, you’ll need certain personal traits and characteristics, including:


• Wit and humour (at least traces of humour)

• Comfort with public speaking

• A very thick skin

• Eloquence

• The ability to give you sound bites

• Vision

• A good temperament

• Ability to think on your feet

• Self-motivation and discipline



General Job Description of a City Councillor

A city councillor is a member of the governing council of a municipality, often referred to as City Council. City Council is responsible for the legislative and administrative functions of a municipality. They adopt by-laws and resolutions and evolving policy within the ambit of the powers delegated to them. 


As a councillor, or “Member of Council”, you would play both a legislative role and a constituency role.


In your legislative role, you would be responsible for considering and establishing policies and by-laws to implement Council's decisions.In your constituency role you would be responsible for consulting with the constituents of your ward/district and for ensuring that all sides of an issue are considered in the decision making process.


Please Note: Often, a city councillor is elected by the voters within a specific district and is expected to work for the good of that district. However, in some cities and towns, they may be elected to represent all of the city's voters.





Typical Job Duties

Although your specific duties could vary from city to city, you could generally expect to perform the following duties as a city councilor:


• Conduct regular reviews of programs, services and delivery methods thereof

• Manage land resources through careful land use planning while satisfying social, economic and environmental concerns

• Participate in making decisions that will have long term effects and consequences on the municipality

• Prior to making decisions, must be aware of the consequences of City Council's decisions on the citizens of the city, specifically those within the your ward

• Respond to individual problems that are identified by ward residents

• Liaise with the various statutory boards, commissions, committees and other levels of government on all matters of mutual concern

• Participate in establishing policies and ensure that such policies are implemented and observed in an objective and consistent manner

• Study and understand all materials prior to attending Council, Standing Committee, Boards or Commissions meetings



How to Get Elected as a City Councillor: Steps to Take

Below is a brief overview of the steps you should take to run for a seat on city council. These points are elaborated upon in our "How to Get Elected as a City Councillor" guide.


• Step 1: Get to know your community

• Step 2: Get to know the issues

• Step 3: Finalize decision to run

• Step 4: Ensure you meet the basic requirements

• Step 5: Get your name on the ballot

• Step 6: Assess the political landscape

• Step 7: Hire a Manager/Organize a campaign team

• Step 8: Develop your platform

• Step 9: Fundraise

• Step 10: Campaign, campaign, campaign!



How Much do City Councillors Make?

The salary you could earn as a city councillor can vary quite a bit from city to city. One thing that is consistent among cities though, is that council members typically receive modest compensation for their work, usually because they serve on a part-time basis.


The average number of hours spent per week on council-related matters in small, medium and large cities is 20, 25 and 42, respectively.


Another factor that can affect the earnings of city councillors are the size of the municipality in which they serve. In general terms, the larger the city, the higher the salary. Take the salary level of cities below, relative to their populations.*



• Regina, Saskatchewan: $36,268 CAD (pop. 232,090)

• Toronto, Ontario: $108,032 CAD (pop. 6,055,724)


United States

• Akron, Ohio: $33,675 USD (pop. 197,859)

• New York, New York  $148,500 USD (pop. 8,491,079)


*These examples are meant to serve as a guideline only.



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Similar Occupations

Listed below are occupations in our database that have similar responsibilities, and/or require similar skills, or be in the same sector of industry, as 'city councillor':


• Chief Operating Officer (COO)

• Economic Development Officer

• Lobbyist

• Mayor

• Politician

• Urban Planner




Please consult the following resources to learn more about what these executives do for a living, and how you can become one:



Candidacy:Qualifications for Filing Candidacy.” (n.d.). Maryland State Board of Elections website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

New York Region:New York City Council Votes to Raise Members’ Pay.” J. David Goodman (February 5, 2016). New York Times website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Articles:City Councils.” (n.d.). National League of Cities website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Content:Frequently Asked Questions.” (n.d.). Denver City Council website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Articles:City Council Votes To Give Itself $36,000 Pay Raise.” (February 5, 2016). CBS Local website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Saskatchewan News:Top earners at City of Regina.” Richard Beer (June 20, 2015). CBC News website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a City Councillor

The 'Relevant Fields of Study' section below lists areas of academic focus that pertain to this career. Scholarships matched to those fields of study can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the college/university majors listed below can be helpful for becoming a city councillor. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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