OP-ED: Democracy Guelph Still Not Dissuaded from Supporting 12-Person Council

For the past 30 years or so Guelph has had 12 part-time city councillors. During that time the population of Guelph has increased from roughly 88,000 to 135,000, an almost 50 per cent increase. As such the demands on the 12 councillors have increased significantly and any councillor will tell you it is no longer a part-time commitment that is required to do the job properly. It is expected (and legislatively required by the province) that Guelph grows another 50 per cent to about 200,000 by 2050. These facts among others required the City to conduct a Council Review.

On June 21st Guelph City Council will consider a proposal from consultants to shrink City Council to eight full-time councillors. If you are a resident of Guelph I urge you to email clerks [at] guelph.ca to have your message included in the official public record. You can also email your Councillor and the Mayor at councillorsandmayor [at] guelph.ca.

The final report from Watson and Associates (the consultants hired by the City to conduct this Council Review) recommends a transition to eight full-time councillors. This is counter-intuitive at first glance to say the least and recklessly irresponsible after the slightest due diligence to be blunt. To adopt such a proposal would be to consciously choose to reduce democracy and accountability to the public at an increased financial cost.

City Councillors are the only City leadership that can be hired and fired by the public (apart from the Mayor) and even then only every 4 years during an election. Reducing the number of elected leaders representing the public is also reducing the number of people accountable to the public when the population is growing and is therefore anti-democratic. Period.

It will inevitably lead to a City that is more bureaucratic and less responsive to the needs of the people. With so many more voices and fewer listeners, it will be increasingly difficult for constituents to get a hold of their representatives let alone have a meaningful conversation with them. The recommendation is particularly galling when you account for the fact that according to the consultants own report, over three rounds of public consultations, a clear majority of those surveyed said they did NOT want to shrink the size of council.

A clear majority also said they wanted to keep the current two councillors per ward arrangement but the consultant’s recommendation ignores that as well. They provide no plausible rationale (let alone evidence) that switching to one councillor per ward would be an improvement. Perhaps that is because if you crunch the numbers it turns out that one councillor per ward is objectively worse than two councillors per ward. Local citizen group Democracy Guelph did the math and wrote to City Council to point out that moving to one councillor per ward would increase the number of “wasted votes” (votes that fail to elect anyone). So not only

will Guelphites have LESS people representing them at City Hall but those leaders will be chosen by a SMALLER portion of the population. What could be more anti-democratic than changing the election system such that MORE ballots count for NOTHING?

The cherry on this terrible cake? These changes are going to cost MORE than what we pay now. That’s right, pay more and get less. At present the 12 part-time councillors are collectively paid $480,000 NOT including benefits and expenses. The consultants estimate that eight full-time councillors would be collectively paid $640,000 NOT including benefits and expenses.

But wait, there’s more! This smaller council will require staff support so the consultants propose hiring a staff person at an estimated $90,350/year.

But wait, there’s even more!

  • Councillors currently do not have dedicated office space at City Hall but full-time councillors would require this so tack on an estimated, one-time expense of $198,000-$237,000 for renovations.
  • Councillors currently do not have any pension or retirement provisions and it is likely that full-time councillors will expect this so tack on another perpetual expense as yet to be determined.

It is frankly offensive that the citizens of Guelph have paid tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars for a consultant to ignore public input and then suggest to those same citizens that they pay more for less. Needless to say, the City Council should reject the consultant’s proposal and maybe even demand their (our) money back. If you want to express your thoughts I urge you to send an email to clerks [at] guelph.ca and/or councillorsandmayor [at] guelph.ca.

Kevin Bowman
Chairperson for Democracy Guelph

You can see the Politico preview of Monday’s council meeting here, and you have until Friday June 18 at 10 am to register with the clerks office as a delegate or send a correspondence for the meeting.

Photo provided.

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