12/24/12

Explaining Council Expenses


Australian council expensesTip of the hat to Ian Adams for clearing up any misrepresentation of council’s expenses and clarifying some information, in his most recent blog post.

The total council expense allotment is well under budget this year. It usually is; we are very cautious in how we use our rather limited allotment. However, Scoop doesn’t explain a couple of things about how the allotment affects us individually.

We don’t generally have enough in our council expense accounts to attend more than one event a year – the amount ($4,000 each) alloted has remained the same since at least 2003, although hotel, transportation, booking, events, food, and other costs have all gone up since then.

The conferences we attend are very valuable – there are many workshops, seminars, discussion groups, plus vendor areas where we get to see other types of product and services. It was at Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference that many of us first encountered fabric buildings as alternate structures for recreation and other uses. In fact, we provided sales material about them to staff at least as far back as 2010.

I’ve attended workshops at these conventions on communications, social media, asset management, the Municipal Act, QR codes, online security, budgeting, sustainability, waste management, library collection management, staffing, libel and slander, infrastructure life cycles, planning issues, building codes… and many other topics.

At some of these conferences, there are so many interesting or useful seminars that it’s difficult to select the few we can schedule. AMO is usually a very busy three days.

Plus there is a lot of networking at these events – talking with other councillors, staff or board members from other municipalities, discussing contemporary issues, hearing how they resolved problems, what they’re dealing with, and so on. 

At AMO, we can also meet with provincial ministers and their representatives, to discuss specific topics of local interest such as funding opportunities. Because we’re in Ottawa for AMO, we also have the opportunity to meet with federal politicians and departments.

Adams notes:

Ian Chadwick’s expenses in 2012 are $5,100 (he’s gone a little overbudget this year). I can only assume he was using the money to feed his ukelele addiction, as there can be no other explanation for it.

Sorry, Ian (and conspiracy theorists). I have a less nefarious explanation.

This year I attended two conferences, AMO (which I usually attend rather than FCM which is most often out of province – I’ve only ever been to FCM when it was held in Toronto at which time I didn’t get to AMO), and the Ontario Library Association conference in Toronto. First time in my 20 years on the board I’ve attended the OLA conference, and first time I’ve attended two conferences in a year.

The OLA event used to be paid for from the library budget, but because council reduced the library’s budget after the event was booked and paid for, the money had to be added to my council expenses, not the library’s. So my expenses ran over – it’s the first time in the last decade that it has done so. Mea culpa, but not going would have cost the registration fee anyway.

Not a single ukulele was added to my collection as a result of my attendance (not even at my own expense…). However, some books from the vendor area at OLA were added to the library’s collection, and the library has purchased a new digital newsreader for its customers. That comes from spending a couple of hours in the vendor area talking to publishers, service providers and manufacturers about what they had on display.

Council cell phone/data charges are billed to our expenses, too, as are per-diem payments for day-long events. These total roughly $1,000 a year per councillor, or about a quarter of our allotment. That doesn’t leave a lot for professional development. AMO alone costs each of us between $2,000 and-$2,500 – registration, hotel, transportation to and from Ottawa, meals, etc.

This is a challenge because there are several other events – regional AMO workshops, governance seminars or board-related conventions – many of us would also like to attend to help build our knowledge and understanding. Our budgets generally don’t allow us to do that much more professional development without doing over the established limit. Certainly we don’t have enough for two major conferences in a year.

I’ve asked staff to look at our expenses at budget time to see what options we have for improved professional development.

Anyway, the point of all this is that council is very parsimonious with its expenses (not like those characters shown in the photos, above). We face challenges in trying to achieve a reasonable level of professional development within that budget, and to effectively make ourselves, better, more knowledgeable and better-connected council members. Thanks to Adams for raising this, so I could explain. Merry Christmas.

03/28/12

Please preserve the CBC: no more cuts!


Huffington PostCanadians who care about media content, journalistic integrity and fair reporting are anxiously watching for tomorrow’s federal budget announcements. Big cuts to the CBC are expected, according to this Huffington Post story:

Cuts to CBC funding expected in the upcoming federal budget could have dramatic implications, touching everything from popular television programming to foreign news bureaus and eliminating hundreds of jobs, observers predict.

The CBC’s own story about the predicted cuts doesn’t mention the CBC, but it does say, “…many public servants in Ottawa are bracing for staffing cuts, which may not arrive through relatively painless attrition or early retirement packages”

The CBC has been the target of numerous Conservative governments since Brian Mulroney, and suffered successive budget cuts under the Conservatives ever since. The once-vaunted Radio Canada International was reduced from an internationally acclaimed, award-winning short-wave service that was the voice of Canada for millions of listeners worldwide, to little more than a repeater service for the CBC, thanks to budget cuts.

Cuts have crippled the CBC for almost three decades, ever since Mulroney (a humourless, mean-spirited prime minister if ever there was one; he rapidly sank to being one of the most unpopular politicians in Canadian history, in part because of his attack on the CBC).

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a media watchdog organization, took up the fight to save the CBC last year. A Globe and Mail story from last fall begins,

The CBC is stuck in a “stranglehold” as Conservative MPs attack the broadcaster and threaten to end or decrease its funding, a broadcast watchdog says.

On the Friends website, the latest story says, “New opinion research shows that 6 in 10 Canadians want the Harper Conservatives to keep their election promise to increase or maintain funding to the CBC.”

Majority opinions have never caused Harper to change his mind or his direction. He’s from the west where the CBC has been demonized as the “Communist Broadcasting Corporation” by the uber-right. One can hardly expect him to have any more sympathy for non-sycophant journalists than Rick Santorum showed for the New York Times recently.

For the right, especially for the American right, media is a tool of the party, not for journalistic truth or objectivity. Worse is that the CBC in the guise of comedic shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Royal Canadian Air Farce and Rick Mercer Report have actually dared to tease and make fun of Steven Harper. Well, they have a long history of poking fun at all parties and all politicians, but some – like Harper – seem to take it very personally.

Instead of growing a thicker skin, he cuts their budget. Harper and Mulroney share some unfortunate personality traits in that.

As the Friends website notes, Harper’s cuts are not just cost savings, but rather a strategy to cause the public support for the CBC to dissipate because it won’t be able to provide what Canadians expect from a national broadcaster:

Further cuts would be to the bone and make it impossible for the CBC to effectively fulfill its mandate, leaving our national broadcaster open to increased criticism that it’s wasting taxpayer money, unfairly competing with private broadcasters for advertising dollars and calls for dismantling. There is no more room for efficiency; every dollar has to come out of programming – off the air, off the screen.

Budget cuts have been stripping Canadian content from the CBC for the last 30 years. It’s become more and more American in almost everything it does, while Canadian content and culture suffers from a shrinking venue for exposure of our own material. Harper and his allies seem to prefer American programming – the slavishly sycophant Fox and its ilk – to Canadian programming, but then they also seem to prefer American-style attack politics, so that’s no surprise. No wonder Sun media has a place in their hearts.

CBC is ESSENTIAL to continue to connect Canadians from coast to coast. We need to continue to support and increase funding for the CBC to create more Canadian content.

The HuffPost noted,

In addition to prime-time programming, sources familiar with the file told HuffPost the upcoming cuts may lead to the closing of some foreign bureaus and will necessitate employee layoffs.
Barry Kiefl, head of the independent Ottawa-based firm Canadian Media Research Inc. (CMRI), cautions against “taking it for granted that there’s going to be a 10 per cent cut,” before details of the budget are revealed on Thursday. But he maintains a trim of that magnitude could result in the elimination of 1,000 jobs.

Jobs will not only be lost in the BCB itself, but in Canada’s cultural industry: independent filmmakers, producers, directors, script writers and others will have no place in Canada to work:

In addition to stoking concern among CBC employees, (Mary) Darling says the possibility of significant belt-tightening is contributing to widespread uncertainty among the legions of independent producers, such as herself, who create the network’s English language dramatic programming.
“People are beyond tense. This is our livelihood. This is how we make our living and send our kids to school,” said Darling, who alongside husband Clark Donnelly runs Toronto-based Westwind Pictures, the company behind Little Mosque.
Currently in its final season, the sitcom won’t be affected by looming cuts. But if the rumours are true, Donnelly predicts the network won’t pick up similar programs in the future, putting several programs Westwind is currently developing in peril.
(Mary Darling is executive producer of the network’s hit TV show, Little Mosque of the Prairie.)

The CBC provides us with a stronger national identity. Without it, we would be little more than the 51st state of the USA. Without it, we would have no bulwark against American culture.

It will be a tragic day for Canadian journalism, Canadian culture, Canadian media, Canadian unity and Canadian values if the Harper Conservatives do any more economic damage to the CBC than they have already done over the past three decades. But I suspect they won’t rest until the CBC is gutted and dead.