COMMENTARY · 29th November 2010
It’s funny to hear all this sudden talk of Council dysfunction in the media right now. Council Dysfunction is a misnomer. Put a few people in a room with differing opinions who are trying to make different decisions with the same goal in mind and you get (in this case) a 6 ring circus with a Mayoral Ringmaster / Act.
The term 'Dysfunction in Council' can be attributed to a quote by Mayor Joanne Monaghan: “It’s really interesting. We’ve been called dysfunctional and I think that’s very evident right now.”
This quote was delivered by the Mayor when a motion, which had passed, was revisited on the grounds that a Councillor was out of town when the decision was made. The Councillor felt cheated out of his input and accused the Councillor who made the motion of scheming until he was out of town to push the motion past.
There are two problems in the current Council’s history where they appear dysfunctional. While it may have gummed up a few meetings causing them to run long; none of these events truly stopped the business of the meeting from occurring and Council still got through it with only bloodied egos.
The first resolved around a Rio Tinto Alcan Power Sale issue. One of the new Councillors made a motion reiterating Council’s support for the Alcan Modernization Project. This was followed up, at a later meeting, with a motion not to support the sale of power.
This led to one bad meeting where all heck broke loose. The community came out to fight the Councillors whom they did not like and no one called a stop to it. At the next meeting, Mayor Joanne Monaghan called an end to public presentations, which were not on the agenda.
While this looked like a good idea at first, this ended all public feedback the Council could receive on their and the administration’s actions. People who could not get on the agenda could not present items and people who had problems with the administration were effectively silenced by this censorship.
In addition, this created a rift between two Councillors which went back and forth for several meetings as both were unable to attend the same meeting. At the end of October though, the feud ended. Eurocan had announced its impending closure and that is what it took to end the 2009 problems of Council. Suddenly, Council was working to save Eurocan.
Another problem stems from Council being not consulted on matters involving the Mayor, Joanne Monaghan. This has led to several debates where Council has tried to stress that they need to be consulted. The Mayor’s responses make it look as if she feels she has done nothing wrong.
This has led to further changes to the way Council is run. New business is not the same as it was before. The Mayor has either refused to take new business items or taken them begrudgingly at two meetings and is insisting that all new business items be on the agenda. Even motions which need to go through quickly have been put off. This, however, has not stopped the Mayor from bringing up last minute items during Council.
In addition, Monaghan has blindsided Council with two letters admiring the leadership and confidentiality she has brought to Council. It is no surprise then that the topic of the ‘In Camera’ Council retreat Monday night is the setting of guidelines for Council.
Is Council Dysfunctional? No. Do they have their problems? Yes. The problems only arise when people are unable to see eye to eye. Council still gets its work done. Whether they are effective or not is up for the next election to decide.
Senior governments are dysfunctional.
Comment by Helmut Giesbrecht on 29th November 2010
There are parallels that can be drawn with senior levels of government. It is all about what makes easy news reporting and what is more complicated.
In both the Provincial Legislature and the Federal Parliament they have a Question Period. That is the part of the day where the opposition gets to ask questions of the government’s executive council. The House is always packed, the galleries are packed and every member of the press gallery is present with their pens and note pads.
This is mostly theater, at its best. Questions are asked but rarely answered and as one minister put it, “The Member forgets that this is Question Period and not Answer Period.“ It is a time for “gotcha questions”. The Opposition wouldn’t dream of asking a question they didn’t already know the answer to and the government deflects the questions because it is better than answering it.
Not answering a question has been made acceptable by the Press Gallery because they enjoy the cut and thrust of this theater. It makes almost all of the days news.
Covering a heated exchange is much more interesting and easier than the intricacies of a rational and intelligent debate on a complex issue. It gets more attention as well. What does not get done is more interesting than what gets done. It has always been thus and a reporters job is to give people the news. If politicians stopped giving the media theater, they would soon be able to report on the issues that are more important, maybe even boring, but less entertaining. You can't blame the media.
So are our two senior governments dysfunctional? They certainly argue a lot and squabble sometimes so one could argue that they are dysfunctional. They don’t always, maybe even rarely, do what is sensible but things get done whether we agree with them or not. Sometimes positive things happen in spite of the endless debates and disagreements.
You know, the fellow who said “People who like sausages and laws should never watch either one being made”.. was right. It applies to local government as well.
Have some faith. It's OK to like sausages.