THE MISLEADING CASE FOR DUAL COUNCILLORS

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The move by St. Catharines City Council to fill a vacancy in their Regional Councillor ranks with a City Councillor who would perform the Regional role as well. This would have filled a position which, in St. Catharines, is elected at large (by all voters) with a City Councillor, who is elected only by the voters in his/her particular ward, possibly a consideration when Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing denied them the right to do that.

But that’s St. Catharines, so what? Well, some of that city’s Councillors have been pushing for this system across the Region, so that it will that way in every municipality. There may be some extremely limited possibilities in the idea, which was supported by some of our own City Councillors. But first, an explanation of the concept.

The idea is to have certain City Councillors also serve on the Regional Council and cutting out Regional Councillors as they are now elected. The argument goes that there will be less politicians, leading to a lower cost, and the City will be kept apprised of events at Regional Council, with the added bonus of having the will of their municipality directly inserted into the politics of the Region. It may sound good on the surface.

Just a few years ago, there was huge to-do here in Thorold regarding Thorold’s Council-appointed committees and Conflict of Interest legislation. It was decided for a time – until they sorted it out – that Councillors on such committees wouldn’t be allowed to participate lest they forget who it was they represent, the Committees or the Thorold taxpayers. In the end, it was decided that they could participate but not hold office on the Committees. At almost the same time, City Councillors decided that dual City/Regional Councillors were a good idea.

If you think there’s a bit of disconnect in their thinking here, you are not alone. It was deemed a conflict to fully participate in a Committee, yet participating in two paying levels of government at the same time was perfectly OK. I might add that they asked a lawyer about the Committee situation, but apparently made the dual Councillor one based only on the recommendation of Councillors from another municipality (guess which).

Not only do both levels of government pay but, in the case of City Councillors in every municipality in Niagara, they would be paid more by the Region. This might not be as great a problem if they were being paid only the one rate, and maybe that is a possibility, but they will surely decide that the extra work merits at least some extra pay. All the Mayors of all the municipalities get a cheque from each level for their participation. If this was the case for the Councillors, it likely wouldn’t save the taxpayers much money, unless it was in the area of expenses.

The Niagara Region is a separate level of government. Whether it should even exist can be a discussion for another time, but for now it does. Councillors sworn in to the Region promise to make decisions in the best interest of the entire Region, as it should be. While keeping their local considerations in mind, they’re expected to base their decisions on what’s best for everyone in the Region, much as federal politicians are expected to make decisions for the whole country. City Councillors are elected and sworn to look out for the best interests of the City.

If they thought that Councillors might forget whom they serve in the case of a non-paying, non-sworn Committee that they appoint (and their lawyer seemed to think so), then what are we to think about the memories of Councillors who are being paid better by a higher level of government which has a separate level of loyalty? For that matter, Mayors shouldn’t have the dual roles either.

As a separate level of government, the Region should have its own representatives with a mind on their own level. Otherwise, why don’t we also demand that there be Regional Councillors in the Provincial Legislature and MP’s in the Federal Legislature? The answer, I’m sure, has to do with the work load.

Well, Thorold City council has 19 appointed Committees and boards, as well as a number of Ad Hoc Committees. The Region has 5 Standing Committees, 24 Advisory/Steering/Landfill Committees and also a number of Ad Hoc Committees. Since Councillors at both levels are part-time, how well is your Councillor going to do his/her job in all these areas which they deemed important if they are to split their time between both? Our Councillors have been known to complain about Committee time as it is.

And if they want to know what’s going on at the Region, Regional Council and Committee Meetings are open to the public and a matter of public record, except when they’re in camera for the usual reasons, which they likely won’t be able to legally share for the usual reasons. As for input, call or email your Regional Councillor. There is no need to inject lower tier municipalities’ politicians into the Region – or is it Regional politicians into lower tier municipalities?

The last time it came up at the Region, for good reason or bad, the move to dual Councillors failed. In part, that’s due to the requirement that all governance motions have to be supported by the Region’s triple majority: a majority of Regional Councillors from the majority of municipalities representing a majority of the Regional taxpayers.

Neither democracy nor the taxpayer would be well served. The cost of City Councillors in Thorold, as of 2013 (the last year for which I have numbers – not much more now), is 52₵ per person each year, and we would only be replacing one Councillor. That amount won’t even buy one medium coffee at Timmy’s to share among the average Thorold family of 2.9 persons. Even the most expensive Councillor in Niagara (Wainfleet) is only $1.49 per capita.

The arguments just don’t hold up. I’m not sure what advantage there is in having less people to serve you just for the sake of having less politicians but, if that’s your goal, just reduce the number of Councillors, either at the Region or in Thorold. Quite frankly, however, saving such a pittance is hardly worth having even more overworked and/or distracted Councillors.

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