I have a great deal of respect for Professor Siegel – so much, in fact, that he was one of the first people we had come and speak to the Governance Committee in the last term of Council. I suppose that is why I find the title of his column so strange.
The Governance Committee DID define the problem; quite succinctly, in fact. The problem is one of knowledge for the decision-makers in government; that is, the elected officials. No one doubts that staff at the two levels of government speak to one another – if they didn’t, there’d be some serious low-hanging fruit for this Council to pick off. But staff don’t set policy for the community.
The ‘Answer’ that we developed was quite clearly an answer to that problem. When the problem is one of lack of knowledge at the two levels of elected officials, the answer is to arm Councillors with that knowledge. A simple and effective method of doing that is to have some Councillors sit at both levels of government, and receive that information first hand. This is, coincidentally, a solution that other Regions have implemented and found quite effective.
The argument that Councillors should talk to each other is fine to a point, but what about when there is In-Camera information being disseminated at one level or the other? When the debate over the new Station 1 for the NRP was on-going, there was information of an In-Camera nature that Regional Councillors had, leaving City Councillors in the dark. While I trust our Regional Councillors to make good decisions (and I do), I would also feel more comfortable if Councillors I worked closely with were in possession of that information.
To give a few examples, here are some instances from my first term of Council that I feel would have been better dealt with if there were dual-role Councillors, because of their association with both levels of Municipal government:
- The 406 interchange issue in the Martindale neighbourhood.
- The on-going problems surrounding the ingress of traffic on Elderwood resulting from the redesign of the 4th Ave. intersection.
- The replacement of NRP Station 1.
- The redesign of the St. Paul/Geneva/Niagara/Queensont intersection.
- The various demands for a police presence in a variety of different locations (First Louth St, Third Louth St, Thomas St., Lowell Ave.).
- The never-ending construction schedule at Ontario/Welland.
To name a few.
With regard to the over-governance issue – we have 19 elected officials in a city of 132,000 people. Ajax, for example, has 7 elected reps for 109,600 residents. Oshawa has 11 reps for 141,590 residents. Both have dual duty reps at Durham Region. In York Region, Markham has 13 reps, some dual duty, representing 261,575 residents. Newmarket has 80,600 residents, and has a dual duty Councillor at the Region and City, as well as a total 9 reps. (EDIT: See my addendum to this point here)
We in St. Catharines are over-governed.
Why are all of these other Cities tying their two Councils together with dual duty representatives? Is it possible that the communities we are trying to catch-up to have found a system that works better than ours? That’s my belief. I believe it is also shared by majority of our new Council.
To those who disagree – I respect your opinion, but I’m not on-board with your arguments. I don’t believe we need to strike yet another committee; we did that and reported back not even 14 months ago. We underwent significant public participation efforts; this is not an issue that a lot of people feel passionately about, but we still received more feedback than the average Budget committee does, and I think we all agree that the budget is a fairly significant part of what Council deals with. There are a lot of things that many residents are not overly concerned with that Council still needs to discuss. I would wager the vast majority of St. Catharines residents have never expressed an opinion on goose poop on the trails in Port Dalhousie, and yet I’ve spent more than a few minutes in the last 4 years discussing it. This is a problem (clearly identified) that has been discussed repeatedly for several decades.
The time has come to act. While the proposal of a dual duty system may not be absolutely perfect, I am convinced based on the research Council has done that it is a significant improvement over the current system, and the best option for St. Catharines at this time. I sincerely hope City Council chooses to move forward on this issue, sooner rather than later.
Link: 2013 Governance Report