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No limit to questions at council

2015-02-24

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Despite the special committees recommendations and comments from the public, Oshawa city council decided not to limit the number of questions councillors can ask of delegations after they passed the Public Participation report on Feb. 17.

The report is the brainchild of the Public Participation Committee, formed after a memorable council meeting in September 2013 saw two citizens arrested and removed from chamber by plain-clothed police officer.

Charges filed against the two men that were arrested would later be dropped.

The head of that committee was Bob Malcolmson, also the CEO of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce. Malcolmson spoke at the meeting, urging council to include a committee recommender portion of limiting councilor questions during delegations or presentations.

The recommendation would limit councillors to only ask two questions, with the chance for an additional question if approved by council. As well, the wording of questions can not include “are you aware” or “do you agree” or “wouldn’t you say” because “they do no seek clarification or additional relevant information,” the report states.

“The committee feels very strongly that the council needs to have a process on their side, as well as the pubic participation side, because without the process, there is no respect for the agenda from the public,” Malcolmson stated in his report.

By limiting the number of questions to two, it would allow the agenda to move along in a timely manner and prevent prospective delegates from leaving the meeting after having to wait for hours to be heard, something that has occurred in the past Malcolmson says.

He also explained the recommendation came after a review of the practices of 38 other municipalities.

Councillor Amy England questioned the benefit of limiting the number of questions, as this would force councillors to seek answers in a non-public forum and therefore limit transparency, which is the opposite of the report’s intention.

The same was said by councilor Nancy Diamond.

“By not limiting the ability of elected officials, members of council, to address issues and converse with a delegation, that’s transparency,” Diamond says.

She further noted by limiting the number of questions, it would limit councillors’ ability to do their jobs.

However, Malcolmson disagreed, noting that having an agenda citizens can trust is the product of a transparent process.

Malcolmson also noted that councillors originally voted to seek options on this part of the report during a Dec. 8 corporate services meeting, but when the report came back to the Jan. 12 meeting, councillors flip-flopped and voted not to include the recommendation.

“We feel as a committee that it’s absolutely necessary,” Malcolmson said of the committee’s recommendation.

However, the section was not included in the final approved report. Despite this, Diamond says that 90 per cent of what the report recommended was eventually adopted.

This included changes to allow citizens to speak in favour of motions before council, as well as allowing a two-minute time extension for delegations.

“I think the committee was listening, I think council is listening,” Diamond said during the meeting.