Collingwood’s three standing committees consist solely of three members of council, each.*
These committees of three each hold regular, published monthly meetings, hear public delegations, address public issues, post an agenda, receive staff reports, vote on issues, have recorded minutes, have staff to record them, and make recommendations back to council.
In other words they are treated identically to any regular council meeting. Their recommendations are read into the council minutes and voted upon.
Yet none of these committees has a quorum (majority) of council on it.
When one person is absent, as has happened several times since they were struck, the committee consists of a mere two members of council. Three – and sometimes two – members of council can make recommendations about policy, events or issues on behalf of the town that may be approved by council.
Is this democratic? Open? Accountable? Clearly not, if two people can decide issues for the whole town.
More to the point, is it legal?
As I understand it, according to Section 237 of the Municipal Act, to be legal, a meeting requires a quorum of council: in this case, a minimum of five members, and councils cannot alter that requirement (emphasis added):
237 (2) The council of a municipality referred to in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of subsection (1) may reduce its quorum requirement but may not reduce it to less than a majority of its members. 2001, c. 25, s. 237 (2).
According to a paper published by George H. Rust-D’Eye for the Ontario Municipal Administrators’ Association, November 20, 2014 (emphasis added):
Councillors are legislative decision-makers of the municipality, and, with the exception of the head, who is the chief executive officer, they have no individual executive or ministerial duties. Moreover, they have no authority to act for the corporation except in conjunction with other members constituting a quorum. As legislators, they fulfil a role similar to members of Parliament or the Provincial Legislature.
In a report to the City of London, the Ombudsman noted that,
…having a quorum means a sufficient number of members (a majority in this case) are present to legally transact business.
The corollary seems to me that not having a quorum means the committee cannot legally conduct business relating to the town. Yet each one does.
As I read the various reports and laws, an official meeting requires a quorum. Without it, it is not a legal meeting. But even if it is – what is open and transparent about two or three out of nine deciding what policies or recommendations to make to council?
Further, when a committee of three or even two makes a recommendation to council, it seems to me that violates section 224 of the Act which says that is the responsibility of the whole council to evaluate polices and programs, not of a select group. Also not the emphasized section below:
Role of council
224. It is the role of council,
(a) to represent the public and to consider the well-being and interests of the municipality;
(b) to develop and evaluate the policies and programs of the municipality;
(c) to determine which services the municipality provides;
(d) to ensure that administrative policies, practices and procedures and controllership policies, practices and procedures are in place to implement the decisions of council;
(d.1) to ensure the accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management of the municipality;
(e) to maintain the financial integrity of the municipality; and
(f) to carry out the duties of council under this or any other Act. 2001, c. 25, s. 224; 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 99.
What is council doing to ensure the “accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management of the municipality” as the Act requires? Apparently nothing.
The standing committee system proved a mistake from day one, and, if I read the laws correctly, may even prove illegal. Council should have rejected this model when presented, or at least as soon as it became clear it was deeply flawed and non-democratic.
But because this system was recommended by the senior staff, council approved it, and the practice has continued. From the outside, it looks like a successful divide-and-conquer method: those staff can much more easily intimidate, and manipulate the majority of a three-person committee in an un-televised meeting than all of council in a televised event where local media are also present.
So if these meetings are not legal – does that make their recommendations null and void? And why has no one on council questioned their legitimacy?
* The three standing committees are:
- Development & Operations Services Standing Committee:
Councillor Jeffery, Councillor Ecclestone, Councillor Lloyd
- Community Services Standing Committee:
Councillor Fryer, Councillor Doherty and Councillor Madigan
- Corporate Services:
Mayor Cooper, Deputy Mayor Saunderson, Councillor Edwards