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What is a “lame duck” council?

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

It’s a municipal election year, and followers of the local political scene will soon once again become familiar with the term “lame duck.”

As rudimental as the term may sound, it actually refers to severe limitations on the decisions local and regional councils can make.

Under Section 275 of Ontario’s Municipal Act, a council becomes “lame duck” if it is determined that less than three-quarters of current members could potentially return after the election.

With 29 members of regional council, it would have taken 22 returning members to avoid the “lame duck” designation.

However, after the closing of nominations on July 27, only 19 members were once again seeking office.

After becoming “lame duck,” the Municipal Act limits a number of authorities of council including hiring and firing of employees, sales of assets over $50,000 and approval of expenditures over $50,000 unless previously approved in the 2018 budget.

The act does provide some wiggle room for councils.

According to Tania Laverty, corporate communications manager for the region, council has delegated certain authorities to CAO Garry Cubitt and new treasurer/commissioner of finance Nancy Taylor.

These include the ability to make expenditures or incur liabilities deemed necessary but not included in the budget; and decisions that maintain and ensure the “appropriate continuity of regional operations, including Durham Region Transit and Durham Regional Local Housing Corporation.”

This is not to suggest Cubitt and Taylor have free reign as any actions they take under this delegated authority must be reported to regional council.

Another example of circumventing the “lame duck” designation happened when council created an ad hoc committee to find a replacement for Cubitt who plans to retire later this year.

The lame duck period will last until the next council takes over on Nov. 30.

The restrictions on council do not apply in the case of a municipal emergency.