The Length of Council Meetings: Andrew Foulds

Thunder BayTHUNDER BAY – As a result of several city council meetings running into the early morning three resolutions have been brought forward in order to ‘streamline’ council meetings. The first resolution was to automatically stop meetings at 11 pm and to resume the next day. The second was to limit the number of questions a councillor could ask a deputation or administration in any given round, with unlimited rounds. And the third was to stop broadcasting city council meetings two months before the election.

The first and third resolutions were defeated but the second one passed. I opposed all three.

The argument was made that some councillors are either grandstanding or asking too many questions. I don’t believe this is a matter you can legislate (i. e. pass a workable resolution) against. It is a matter for people to judge. The reality is sometimes democracy is messy and takes time.

The public deserves more credit than these resolutions give them. People can tell the difference between a well thought out and articulated question and not. The public can tell whether a question has been asked before. The public can tell if a councillor is grandstanding. It isn’t for council to legislate against this, it is for people to choose who they want and how they want to be represented on council.

Council’s decisions affect both the short and long term. Decisions made now can have serious implications for the future. The more information I have the more comfortable I am making a decision. It takes time to get it right. I take this responsibility very seriously and, if it is necessary, I prefer staying late in order to make the proper decision. With our other committee commitments it is not easy to re-schedule on Tuesdays. For those of us with young families, this often would mean scrambling for childcare.

Approximately 3700 people watch Council every week and close to 40,000 watch at least once a year. How many other TV shows have this type of audience in Northwestern Ontario? And if councillors are grandstanding, isn’t it valuable that the TV viewers can see this for themselves – leading up to an election?

Although the second resolution – implementing the three question rule – passed, it has proven unsuccessful in achieving the desired outcome. I would argue that it has actually hindered the decision-making process. Some questions naturally lead to others. It is often difficult to follow up 20 or 30 minutes later as the train of thought has been lost. If a question isn’t answered fully or if the respondent didn’t fully comprehend the question, it is better to ask it again immediately. The new system is frustrating and not helpful in the decision making process.

Yes, there have been some late meetings. So what? Council has important issues to deal with. This is the responsibility an elected official takes on in order to govern. It is an honour to serve and if it means staying late – so be it.

I opposed these three resolutions mainly because I don’t believe you can ‘streamline’ democracy. I don’t believe you can legislate good or bad questions. Finally, I don’t believe you should ever limit citizens’ access to public information about a democratic government – which I believe these resolutions tried to do.

Andrew Foulds

Councillor, Current River

Contact: afoulds@thunderbay.ca