This Month at Council Part 2: New Ward Maps and Accessible Voting

In the second half of June, much of the business of city council focused on itself. There were back-to-back meetings about the new ward maps and council composition, and then, at the end of the month, it was a triple header with shareholder meetings for Guelph holding corporations and a complex series of actions at the regular council meeting. Here’s the rest of the council recap for the month.

Special Meeting of City Council – June 21

To call it a special meeting of city council almost doesn’t do it any justice because it’s a decision three terms and three decades in the making: the future composition of council and the new ward boundaries.

The meeting started off with a presentation by the consultants from Watson & Associates, laying out the whys and hows they came up with the eight-ward map and the recommendation to have a city council made up of eight full-time councillors plus the mayor. After the presentation, council heard from 10 delegates who all had various doubts about the preferred option, from accusations that it was less democratic, to inferences that it was a flawed or biased process from the outset.

When the matter returned to council, there were a great number of probing questions for the consultants that mostly centred on their recommendation for full-time councillors, and whether there was any guarantee that the new model would deliver on promises of less incumbency and more diversity. There was also some skepticism about whether there was enough work for a full-time councillor, and how they would spend that extra time.

In terms of the ward maps, the primary concern was around proportional representation by population, specifically when it comes to the south end where the near constant state of growth will see Ward 6 continue to balloon even after moving 10,000 people into Ward 5 in one of the six-ward maps. After being questioned all night about their methodology and the public response to six wards versus their recommendation for eight, the consultants explained it was never about pitting one type of ward map against the other, rather they were trying to “throw a lasso around people’s thinking.”

Ultimately, they said no ward map will be perfect, nor will it be all things to everyone.

Before the night wrapped, Mayor Cam Guthrie asked for intentions from the councillors. Ward 4 Councillor Mike Salisbury said it was going to be advancing the 6-2 option for council’s approval, while Ward 6 Councillor Dominique O’Rourke wants a ward boundary review after the 2026 election and Ward 1 Councillor Bob Bell wants an adjustment to the boundary between Ward 1 and 2, but he didn’t say for which map.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Special Meeting of City Council – June 23

The short version: Guelph city council voted that they like the current system of two councillors each from six wards, while avoiding the question of part-time or full-time by just referring the whole thing to the citizen’s committee that decides on Council Remuneration and Support Advisory.

Although the recommendation from consultant was for a system made up of one councillor each from eight wards, the alternative 12 councillor recommendation was put on the floor almost immediately. Every councillor took a turn to explain their preference, and it was clear that support for eight wards was marginal at best.

Instead, the most contentious part of the debate was around the full or part-time designations, and whether or not that was even in the purview of council to discuss. Staff tried to make the point that the committee would need direction for deliberations, otherwise they could always just recommend that council be paid with small honorarium (theoretically). Ultimately, council referred all comment about compensation to the committee, though they wanted it known that it’s *not* their intention to compensate the next council as full-time councillors.

As to the rest of the recommendation, council passed the 6-2 option by a vote of 9-4 with the two Ward 6 councillors both voting against along with Councillors Bob Bell and Rodrigo Goller. Councillor Mark MacKinnon tried to goad council into voting for two councillors from eight wards if the idea was that two councillors are better than one, but almost nobody took the bait.

Following up on the main motion, it seemed like everyone was fine with the new ward boundaries, but there was little appetite for directing staff to bring forward a recommendation in this fall’s budget for a dedicated support staff member for councillors.

Councillor Cathy Downer brought forward a motion to have the remuneration committee to look at comparator municipalities that are two-tiered to see how Guelph compares to other cities where part-time councillors sit on two different councils. Mayor Cam Guthrie later asked for a motion that the remuneration committee bring back their decision in Q1 of 2021 instead of Q2 so that everyone knows what they’re running for.

In one final bit of business, Councillor Dominique O’Rourke asked that council look at doing another ward boundary review after the 2026 election to ensure that there’s still relative proportionality between two wards. Some on council felt this was a bit iffy, but City Clerk Stephen O’Brien said he would rather prepare for work and not need to do it versus having to do the work and not being prepared. That motion also passed.

A 45-day period for appeal through the Ontario Land Tribunal (aka: the LPAT) is now open, and assuming that there are no appeals, or assuming that any appeal is concluded by the end of the year, the new map will be in place for Election Day on October 24, 2022.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Shareholder Meeting of City Council – June 28

Council started early with a pair of shareholder meetings, and the first one was for Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. After a brief in-camera discussion about District Energy, the CEO Of GMHI, CAO Scott Stewart, delivered the brief report that mostly focused on the shutdown of the aforementioned District Energy projects.

Council approved the audited statements and then moved on to the next meeting about Guelph Junction Railway. There was no in-camera session for this meeting, but there was a delegation.

John Fisher, the president of the Guelph Hiking Club, wanted to invite Guelph Junction Railway to be more of an active player in executing the City’s Trails Master Plan since three of the major projects run along GJR tracks. Under questioning later by council, Stewart, who is also the CEO of the Railway, said that Guelph Junction Railway is beholden to the goals of the Strategic Plan like all City departments, but noted that future annual reports could bring back information on the company’s community engagement efforts.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

Regular Meeting of City Council – June 28

The closed session for the regular meeting started late because of the Guelph Junction Railway shareholder meeting, but the open meeting started on time with council approving the latest public appointments to local boards and advisory committees. They then passed all but two of the items from the Committee of the Whole agenda.

In terms of new items on the council agenda, there were six delegates to speak to accessibility concerns around the 2022 Municipal Election, and half of them were from the Accessibility Advisory Committee. All delegates though asked council to endorse the AAC’s request to allow the use of electronic ballot marking in next year’s election, along with the City Clerk’s plan for a Vote From Home program, which would become a secondary option.

Mayor Cam Guthrie offered a motion to direct the clerk’s office to review electronic ballot marking and bring a report back to council by the fourth quarter of 2021, and it was unanimously adopted by council.

Next, council revisited the Trails Master Plan, which was pulled because there were four new delegations on the matter. The first two delegates merely spoke in favour of proceeding with the plan, but the last two expressed new concern about the Speedvale Bridge underpass, and whether or not in can still proceed given practical realities about flood plains and retaining walls along the river.

Another Guthrie motion proposed that staff explore the feasibility of a street level connection from the trail on the northern side of Speedvale to the underpass, noting that this doesn’t necessarily change the budget or the timetable, but it looks at another alternative to address connectivity because a permanent solution may take years, and the Speedvale Bridge redevelopment is expected to begin in short order. Some on council were concerned that their direction about proceeding with the underpass proper was getting lost between the horseshoe and the planning being done by staff, but council was assured that this is not the case. The motion was passed.

Returning to committee business, Councillor Mark MacKinnon brought forward an amended recommendation to refer a three-tiered affordable bus pass program to this fall’s budget deliberations, an improvement over the two-tiered program proposed at committee. It was passed unanimously.

In further debate on the Capital Program Resourcing Strategy, Guthrie offered another motion to approve the conversion of 16 of the 22 contract positions to full-time, and that the remaining positions be brought back for council approval through the usual budget process. Although the amendment was passed unanimously, Councillor Dan Gibson asked for council’s acknowledgement that they were changing the original intent of the dedicated infrastructure levy by using it to pay for staff, but others saw it as the literal price to execute the City’s ambitious infrastructure renewal plan.

The meeting ended with the presentation of the City’s first “Future Ready Progress Report”, which you can check out for yourself at this website.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

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