Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Third Vote Tango

A proposed bylaw must have three separate readings and votes before it takes effect, according to Section 77 of the Cities Act. The first two readings may happen in a single meeting, but for the third to happen, there must be unanimous consent of all members of council present for that to occur.

Why the wait? I believe it’s there to provide an opportunity for the public to comment on any proposed change that will affect them, before the final vote is made. It also gives an opportunity for sober second thought by members of council.

Most times bylaw passing is a mere formality, and I have no problem with consenting to three votes in one meeting. But if it’s something that I feel will affect the public, and I don’t think that there has been adequate time for public input, then I won’t consent. It’s that simple. It’s the process that is laid out in our governing law, and I have to assume that it’s there for good reason.

Several years ago, before I was a member of council, a family came to council one night with a proposal to paint a mural on the wall of City Hall, to honour their father, who had recently passed away. Ignoring the fact that City Hall does not belong to council, that painting over the Tyndall stone probably wasn’t the best thing to do, and that it marred the architectural appearance of a lovely building, the council of the day had three votes in one night, and the painting started the next day. I was appalled, as were many people I spoke to, and that memory has remained with me, reminding me how the public may have a different view than council, and should have the opportunity to provide that view before it's too late.

With that in mind, I don’t always consent to that third vote. In previous councils, when consent wasn’t granted, the third vote would happen two weeks later, at the next council meeting. Once I can remember the mayor of the day, and another councillor, getting a bit cranky with me because I wouldn’t give consent, but they had enough respect for the process not to try to bulldoze through it.

This council doesn’t operate that way – if something doesn’t pass according to plan, then a special meeting is scheduled for as soon as possible, without considering the opportunity for the public to comment.

So on Monday evening, the budget bylaw was read twice, and we voted twice. While there are some things that are good in this budget, there are more things that I can’t agree to support. And I believe that the process was far too rushed, unnecessarily so. Council didn’t have adequate time to review or discuss this massive document; neither did the public. I have yet to hear a good reason for the hurry, since the mill rate, based on this budget as well as other factors, won’t be set until late May. So I voted against the budget, although most of council supported it. When it came time to consent to a third reading, I didn’t consent, so the third vote didn’t happen.

I suppose some people might wonder why I bother, since it’s going to pass anyway. Why not consent, why hold things up?

The answer is easy: voting for what I believe is right is a commitment that I have made to the people of Ward Three, and a commitment that I have kept for the past nine years. If I start voting for things that I don’t believe in, just because I’m not going to win, then I’ve betrayed the trust of the people of my ward. Nowhere in the oath of office does it commit me to voting against my principles just so council can appear to be one voice; nowhere does it say that before every vote I should look to the front of the room to see when to raise my hand; nowhere does it say that a successful council is one on which everyone agrees on everything, all the time.

So I’ll be voting according to my principles once again, at tomorrow’s special meeting, scheduled because this council believes that whatever the majority wants, the majority should have, as soon as they want it, and to hell with the process.

"Strength of numbers is the delight of the timid." – Mahatma Gandhi

1 comment:

bclavier said...

Another apt quote would be the simple reminder about "the tyranny of the majority" (John Stuart Mill). Problem is, council's majority is too comfortable to care about the functioning of democracy in a parliamentary system.