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Region approves new committee structure

Under new pilot program, calendar of committee meetings will be replaced by single all day gathering the week prior to council meetings

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Regional councillors will be moving ahead with a change to how its committees work.

Following a vote at regional council, a majority of councillors voted in favour of implementing a new pilot program, which will see individual committee meetings replaced with a single committee of the whole meeting the week prior to council meetings.

Under the new schedule, the first Wednesday of every month will have a committee of the whole meeting, while the second Wednesday will be for council meetings.

The new system, which will come into effect following the summer break, saw councillors debate whether the new system will make matters at the region more efficient, or if moving everything on to one day’s agenda will be a damper on discussion.

Speaking in front of council, Whitby mayor Don Mitchell says the new plan will really only benefit a few people.

“We’re getting rid of all of that to convenience some people’s personal calendars. I just don’t find that a worthy reason for this initiative,” he said.

“We have no independent oversight, we have no expertise, we have nothing you can count on…you can’t count on the group that has paid special attention to their area, and that has been so important for our oversight over very large agendas. We’re just abandoning that for whatever reason, or personal convenience.”

Oshawa councillor Nancy Diamond agreed, saying the new schedule will put a damper on discussion, especially if a councillor has to miss a meeting.

“We have a job to do, and I fear with this committee of the whole process, let’s say someone is ill and they can’t be there. Well don’t question it at council next week. I find this slipping towards a consent agenda,” she said.

“When we look at the dates in the report, there are five committee of the whole meetings where there is a five-week break between meetings, and there are six council meetings where there is a five-week break. So don’t think we’re going to handle things efficiently. If you miss that date, you’re out of luck.”

Clarington mayor Adrian Foster, however, disagreed with some of the notions brought up by those against the new structure, saying councillors will be able to get more work done now that less of their time will be spent with committee meetings.

“To be here for the optics of being here, as opposed to getting the work done that we’re all elected to do, I’m sorry but not for the optics. If there are some three-week periods and I’ve got an extra day or an extra day and a half because of no committee stuff, I want to grab that,” he said.

Matthew Gaskell, the region’s commissioner of corporate services, said a similar sentiment is being felt by staff, who he says will be able to get more work done now that they don’t have to attend as many meetings.

“From the staff perspective, there’s two periods during the year where there’s going to be a three-week gap and boy, those are going to be helpful,” he said.

“With all due respect, we also have day jobs that are beyond just sitting and reporting in council and getting things done. That will help us catch up from time to time over what is a heavy schedule.”

Speaking with The Oshawa Express following the vote that approved the pilot project, Roger Anderson, the regional chair, said that under this new structure, councillors will be better informed with what is going on in Durham.

“Nobody will be able to say they didn’t know. If they did, they didn’t do their work. It’s that simple. If they don’t want to stay … they don’t have to stay. It isn’t going to be hard,” he said.

“The first and second Wednesday of every month, you’re busy, and you’re either a part of it or you’re not a part of it. I think it’ll be a great opportunity for everybody to know everything about every other committee.”

Gaskell previously told The Oshawa Express that the pilot program will last until the conclusion of this term of council in 2018, at which time a decision will be made to continue the program, revert to the previous system or implement a different one.