Back in early 2015, I wrote that the experimental standing committee structure adopted by council was broken. Well, wouldn’t you know it, a year later, council finally agreed. And they replaced it with… you guessed it: another standing committee system. But it’s potentially a much more dangerous threat to our community.
The former system had committees of three council members, which met away from the prying cameras that broadcast full council meetings, some of the committees skulking on the top floor of the library to further avoid public scrutiny.
Because a group of three councillors was not a quorum, committees could only recommend a course of action to council. Delegations and presentations had to be repeated in front of the whole council: a pointless redundancy for staff and the public.
In early 2016, old committees were replaced with two, new five-person committees which meet away from the prying TV cameras, in the top floor of the library where few of the pesky public ever go.
Here’s where the danger to democracy gets exposed. Aside from the continued reluctance of council to do public business in the open, that is.
Five is a quorum of council. Under the Municipal Act, a quorum has all the legal authority of a full council. A quorum can legally pass bylaws, decide policies, set tax rates, user fees, approve purchases and conduct the business of the town. So you elected nine people, but now just five can decide the course of Collingwood.
But wait, what’s a majority of five? Right: three. That means only THREE members of council need to vote together to legally pass bylaws, taxes, policies, create advisory committees, task forces, direct staff, give themselves a raise, and so on.
So you’ve gone from a democracy of nine to a potential dictatorship of three. And coincidentally, there’s an ideological Block poised to take advantage of the new system.
At least three members of the Block sit on each committee. This is the committee equivalent of gerrymandering: rigging the system so a small minority can control council’s – and the town’s – business.
Worse: the mayor is “ex officio” on each committee but not the chair: she may attend, but does not have voting privileges if the full complement of five is present. So the Block can easily shut her out. They have essentially sidelined the mayor while they control the government.
This, you may recall, is the group that promised the electorate openness, and transparency. April Fool’s! Instead, they have hijacked the system to further their own personal agendas and vendettas.
It would be open and democratic – and efficient – to hold televised committee of the whole meetings on Monday nights as in the past, with all nine members of council. But that doesn’t sit well with the private agendas at play here. Democracy? We don’t need no steenkin’ democracy…
This is nothing less than a coup.