The province of Quebec is divided into units at the regional, supralocal and local levels. The primary types of subdivision are administrative regions, regional county municipalities (RCMs), metropolitan communities (CMs), the Kativik Regional Government (KRG), unorganized territories (TNOs), agglomerations, northern villages, Cree villages, Naskapi villages, and a variety of local units which may collectively be referred to as local municipalities and boroughs.
In English versions of provincial statutes, English names are used for the generic names of government bodies and administrative subdivisions and French ones in proper names, except when the body itself is bilingual. In such cases the existence of an official English name is usually the result of a specific legal provision to that effect. For example, official nomenclature is "ten regional county municipalities", but "An Act respecting the Municipalité régionale de comté du Bas-Richelieu". On the other hand, "Kativik Regional Government" is used in English because the legislation that created it specifically provides for English and Inuktitut names alongside the French one.
The use of acronyms is divided, however, as the acronyms corresponding to the English generic terms are not always in use. Thus one writes "ten RCMs", "the MRC du Bas-Richelieu", "five regional conferences of elected officers" and "five CREs".
The highest level of organization is the administrative region (région administrative). Quebec has 17 administrative regions. They have no government of their own, but rather serve primarily to organize the provision of provincial government services, most significantly the allocation of regional economic development funding.
Local municipalities are organized into three kinds of supralocal units: regional county municipalities or RCMs (municipalités régionales de comté, MRC), metropolitan communities or CMs ("communautés métropolitaines") and regional government (administration régionale).
Most municipalities belong to an RCM. However, some municipalities, mostly urban, northern or Aboriginal, do not.
While CMs may overlap with various administrative regions, RCMs are each wholly contained within a single region, as is the sole regional government, the Kativik Regional Government. RCMs and CMs may also overlap.
In addition to local municipalities, unorganized territories or TNOs (territoires non organisés) may also fall under the jurisdiction of an RCM or of the Kativik Regional Government. Although they are not municipalities, TNOs will be considered "local municipal units" for the purposes of the discussion below.
Local municipalities not belonging to an RCM
There are 47 non-Aboriginal local municipalities in Quebec which do not belong to an RCM, of which the majority are cities or suburbs of cities. These include 21 of the 82 local municipalities making up the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal and 4 of the 28 municipalities of the Communauté métropolitaine de Québec. In particular, Montreal and Quebec City themselves do not belong to any RCM.
The 29 local municipal units of various descriptions (see below) under the jurisdiction of the Kativik Regional Government do not belong to any RCM. Their total population in 2001 was 10,420.
There are a further 47 Aboriginal local municipal units (30 Indian reserves, 8 Cree villages, 8 lands reserved for the Cree and 1 land reserved for the Naskapi, with a total population in 2001 of 48,082) which do not fall under the jurisdiction of an RCM.
Indian reserves differ from Cree, Naskapi and northern villages in the relatively greater role played in the former by the federal government, as opposed to the provincial one, in many areas ordinarily of provincial jurisdiction such as education, health and local government organization.
Regional county municipalities
In all, Quebec has some 86 regional county municipalities or RCMs. RCMs deal with issues requiring coordination between neighbouring local municipalities such as waste management and public transportation.
RCMs have responsibility for a number of issues of local interest, including territorial planning, realty assessment for property taxes, waste management, emergency planning, local economic development and employment assistance as well as local financing of the local development centre or CLD (centre local de développement).
The powers of the RCM are exercised by the RCM council (conseil de MRC). It is composed of the mayors of each of the member municipalities and possibly other elected municipal officials as well as a warden (préfet). Depending on the RCM, a warden can either be appointed by the council (in which case the warden must be one of the mayors) or elected by universal suffrage (in which case they cannot hold any other elective office).
The voting strength of each municipality on the council is determined in part by its population, but a formula is used to prevent a small number of large municipalities from making decisions unilaterally.
CMs have responsibility for areas of common interest to their constituent municipalities such as urban planning, economic development, promotion of international trade, artistic and cultural development, public transportation and waste management. Each CM also has specific areas of jurisdiction defined by the legislation governing it.
Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal
The CMM comprises 82 local municipalities in all, of which 21 do not belong to any RCM, including Montreal itself. The CMM further encompasses the entire territory of four RCMs and parts of another six RCMs.
Communauté métropolitaine de Québec
The CMQ consists of some 28 local municipalities, of which four do not belong to an RCM, including Quebec City itself. The CMQ also covers all of MRC de L'Île-d'Orleans and parts of La Côte-de-Beaupré and La Jacques-Cartier RCMs.
Kativik Regional Government
The Kativik Regional Government or KRG (Administration régionale Kativik), located in the Nord-du-Québec region, serves a primarily Inuit population. In addition to the usual functions of RCMs, the KRG exercises powers devolved to the Inuit of Quebec in recognition of their right to self-government. These include, among other things, jurisdiction over police, transportation, communications and labour.
The KRG is composed of 14 northern villages or VNs ("villages nordiques"), 12 "Category I lands for the Inuit" or TIs (terres de la catégorie I pour les Inuit), one Naskapi village or VK (village naskapi) and two unorganized territories or TNOs ("territoires non-organisés").
The primary level of local organization is the "local municipality" or municipalité locale, although this term groups together numerous more specific legal designations such as ville ("city" or "town"), municipalité ("municipality"), village ("village"), paroisse ("parish"), canton ("township") and, strictly speaking incorrectly, village nordique ("northern village"), village cri ("Cree village") or village naskapi ("Naskapi village"). Local municipalities have authority over most local government matters.
Some areas are not part of any local municipality. These are known as unorganized territories or TNOs (territoires non-organisés). Municipal authority in TNOs is exercised directly by the MRC to which they belong (or the KRG, as the case may be).
In addition to local municipalities, there are two other kinds of administrative entity at the local level which are not general features of municipal organization in Quebec, but which occur in a limited number of areas, especially urban ones, and retain some features of previous states of municipal organization in those areas. These are the borough (or arrondissement), which is submunicipal, and the agglomeration (agglomération), which may group together a number of local municipalities.
There are 1,117 local municipalities in Quebec. This figure is excluding northern villages (VN), Cree villages (VC) and the Naskapi village (VK), as well as their associated reserved lands (TI, TC and TK).
Local municipalities are governed primarily by the Towns and Cities Act and the Municipal Code of Québec, while northern villages are governed by the Act respecting Northern villages and the Kativik Regional Government and Cree and Naskapi villages are governed by the Cree Villages and the Naskapi Village Act and hence are not technically referred to as "local municipalities". However, all of these may be referred to as local municipal units.
At the beginning of the 2000s, the Quebec government carried out a program of municipal mergers, hoping thereby to achieve economies of scale in municipal expenditures and greater fiscal equity. As a result, cities such as Montreal, Quebec, Hull and Chicoutimi absorbed neighbouring municipalities in 2002 (occasionally changing their names in the process, as Hull and Chicoutimi did). After a change of provincial government, it was decided to hold "demerger" referendums in the former municipalities which had merged, and some of these decided to reclaim their status as municipalities. These municipalities were reconstituted in 2006. However, many features of the organization of the original merged cities were retained, including shared fiscal responsibility for a number of matters that would ordinarily be handled at the municipal level. Hence when the new, merged cities were turned into "agglomerations" (agglomérations), the reconstituted municipalities recovered only part of their autonomy. Most notably, the entire Island of Montreal forms a single agglomeration.
The respective powers of agglomerations and reconstituted municipalities are defined by the Act respecting the consultation of citizens with respect to the territorial reorganization of certain municipalities and subsequent legislation. The Act respecting the exercise of certain municipal powers in certain urban agglomerations defines the expression urban agglomeration as follows: an urban agglomeration corresponds to the territory, as it exists on 17 December 2004, of Ville de Montréal, Ville de Québec, Ville de Longueuil, Ville de Mont-Laurier, Ville de La Tuque, Municipalité des Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Ville de Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Ville de Mont-Tremblant, Ville de Cookshire-Eaton, Ville de Rivière-Rouge or Ville de Sainte-Marguerite-Estérel.
Powers of the agglomeration
Agglomeration powers (compétences d'agglomération) are exercised by an agglomeration council (conseil d'agglomération). These powers are listed on the ministère des Affaires municipales et régionales website.
The City of Montreal website lists the following areas of jurisdiction for the agglomeration council (some of these are RCM powers that would not be exercised by most agglomerations):
- realty assessment
- security services, notably police, fire protection and 9-1-1
- municipal court
- social housing
- help for the homeless
- waste management plan, including disposal and reclamation of waste materials and hazardous waste management
- water supply and sewage treatment, except for local network
- public transit
- management of streets and the major arteries
- economic promotion, including tourism, outside of the territory of a linked municipality
- nature parks
Powers of the reconstituted municipality
The functions of a reconstituted municipality vary by agglomeration and by municipality, but generally relate to what are called compétences de proximité, known as "local powers" in English. The Ministère des affaires municipales et régionales website  lists some of these.
The jurisdiction of the agglomeration is exercised by the agglomeration council, composed of representatives of all of its constituent municipalities. Their number is determined in accordance with the populations of their respective municipalities.
A few local municipalities are divided into boroughs (arrondissements). Some municipal functions are delegated to borough councils (conseils d'arrondissement) if it is deemed desirable for these functions to be administered more locally. The powers of the borough council vary from municipality to municipality and even from borough to borough within a single municipality and are often guaranteed by provincial statute.
Currently, eight local municipalities in Quebec are divided into boroughs. These are Montreal, Quebec City, Longueuil, Sherbrooke, Saguenay, Lévis, Métis-sur-Mer and Grenville-sur-la-Rouge. In many cases, boroughs correspond to municipalities that existed before amalgamation in 2002.
- "Compétences d'agglomération – MAMR". Archived from the original on 2005-04-21. Retrieved 2007-03-30.
- Ville de Montréal - La Mairie - Agglomeration council
- Summary of the municipal organization of Quebec on the website of the ministère des Affaires municipales et régionales du Québec
-  Quebec government webpage describing the province's political institutions.
- Symbols for the Legal Status of Municipalities on the website of the Institut de la statistique du Québec
- List of all municipalities - MAMROT (French only)