The Municipal Act and Recorded Votes


A recent motion was made to make all council votes recorded votes. This has generated some confusion among council watchers about voting and both what we can and cannot do.

The Municipal Act makes it clear that calling for a recorded vote is every councillor’s right. It is not staff’s right. See Section 246:

Recorded vote
246. (1) If a member present at a meeting at the time of a vote requests immediately before or after the taking of the vote that the vote be recorded, each member present, except a member who is disqualified from voting by any Act, shall announce his or her vote openly and the clerk shall record each vote. 2001, c. 25, s. 246 (1).

It is usually reserved for significant items or contentious items. If every vote is recorded, we have no way of marking those. When you scan the minutes, recorded votes stand out. When they are all recorded, nothing stands out.

Keeping the vote voluntary rather than compulsory, gives each member of council the only opportunity available in law to underscore a vote he or she thinks is relevant.

It also makes us individually responsible for calling a recorded vote and for being present to be sure we do so.

The Act allows us to call it either before or immediately after a vote, so we have the opportunity to call one even after hands have been raised in a non-recorded vote. That is equally important because it give us a rare second chance to consider whether we believe the results should be recorded.

The Act does not place that responsibility on staff. Nor should we.

If an elected representative can’t decide what’s important enough for a recorded vote, then that person is doing a disservice to the role. Making every vote a recorded vote simply ‘dumbs down’ our role. I know of no community with such a requirement.

And finally, no one can “avert” a recorded vote, as one person suggested. It is an absolute right to call one, and all members at the table are required to respond when called. In fact, if you don’t respond, the Act says your refusal must be counted as a negative vote. Section 246 again:

Failure to vote
(2) A failure to vote under subsection (1) by a member who is present at the meeting at the time of the vote and who is qualified to vote shall be deemed to be a negative vote. 2001, c. 25, s. 246 (2).

We don’t vote on a request for a recorded vote. We can’t even debate it or comment on it. It goes directly to the clerk to call. It is not a request to council, but rather to the clerk, who cannot refuse to honour it.

Easily 90% of what we vote on falls into the category of procedural voting. We vote on accepting the agenda, the correspondence, the confirmatory bylaw, on receiving every committee minutes or staff report.

There were, as I recall, thirteen votes called last night, of which twelve were unanimous. Is there some compelling or historically significant reason to know how everyone voted on, say, accepting the consent agenda? Approving the previous meeting’s minutes? Or the correspondence? Or receiving the minutes of the Elvis Festival committee? Or on adjourning?

The Municipal Act was crafted by lawyers, politicians and experts in municipal governance. It has been modified over the years after comments from its stakeholders such as municipal councils and lawyers. I have every confidence that it serves us well. I don’t think it’s the best use of our time and energies to try and rewrite it just to suit a particular political agenda.