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Council meeting structure may go on despite split vote

A vote at council today will determine how the next term of council will conduct meetings from 2018-2022.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Despite numerous voices in opposition, regional council took a step toward continuing with its current meeting schedule.

On April 4, councillors voted by a 12 to 11 margin in favour of using the current meeting structure for the 2018-2022 term.

In June 2016, council approved a pilot project that replaced individual committee meetings with a single committee of the whole meeting. The new system came into effect in September of that year.

Recently, staff presented council with four recommendations to consider for the next term including continuing with the current practice of committee of the whole on the first Wednesday of the month and a regular council meeting the following week, continuing with the committee of the whole structure, but moving the regular council meeting to the third week of each month, returning to the previous standing committee structure using a three-week cycle, or returning to the previous standing committee structure using a monthly meeting cycle.

A staff report noted that 59 per cent of councillors who responded to a questionnaire favoured continuing with the current schedule.

However, several members of council spoke of their dissatisfaction with the process at the latest meeting.

Oshawa Councillor Amy McQuaid-England says she feels the current structure has impinged her impact in council chambers.

“I feel in my first (term) I was able to achieve a lot more,” she explained.

She also believes social services issues have been pushed to the background, and meetings are now “more weighted towards the financial and planning side.”

Further, McQuaid-England believes the overall feel of regional council has become “more homogenized” and it “doesn’t favour different voices and opinions.”

She argued that the current council shouldn’t be the ones making the decision on future meeting structures.

Lastly, McQuaid-England questioned if councillors should be paid less if they work fewer days, stating they are compensated higher than many residents working every day during the week.

While he noted councillors with experience could “survive” committee of the whole, Oshawa Councillor John Aker worried for new members in the next term.

“No matter how committed and enthusiastic they are, they are going to have a difficult time with committee of the whole,” he said.

Whitby Mayor Don Mitchell didn’t mince words in criticizing the committee of the whole system, calling the meetings “awful”.

Speaking on the length, Mitchell says council members are usually “fed up” by the end of the day, and just want it to be over.

“That is a disrespectful way to treat the residents of Durham,” he says.

Joe Drumm of Whitby agreed, stating “we’re here for too damn long and we’re getting too damn tired.”

“That is not a way to run a committee. It’s simply not working as well as the standing committee. What we’re doing now is just sometimes a waste of time,” he added.

Oshawa’s Nester Pidwerbecki spoke in favour of continuing the current structure.

While some council members argued they cannot forge strong relationships with staff now, Pidwerbecki says when councillors need to ask questions they can simply pick up the phone or send an email.

Pidwerbecki, Doug Saunders and Dan Carter voted to stick with the committee of the whole meetings, while McQuaid-England, Aker, Bob Chapman and John Neal voted against it. Mayor John Henry was absent for the vote.

When asked his opinion on the matter, CAO Garry Cubitt said it doesn’t really matter what he thinks personally.

He did say that all regional department heads, “without exception”, have told him they felt better connected to their respective committees under the old system.

However, he stressed again that the decision was not one for staff to make.

“It boils down to which system you think allows you to make ‘informed, knowledgeable decisions’,” he told council.

Council will have its final vote on the issue today (April 11).