Council Wrapup: Extending Councillor Terms and Some Early Budget Items

Tonight's council meeting was a pretty low-key affair. Nothing contentious on the agenda -- at least, not among councillors.

The one item that did raise a few eyebrows among some prairie dog folk (last night, while we were waiting to see Collapse at the RPL) was Councillor Clipsham's motion that council contact the provincial Minister of Muncipal Affairs and inform him that Regina's council favors changing the Local Government Act so that urban councils will be elected to four-year terms instead of three.

The motion was seconded by Councillor Fougere and passed unanimously. There was no debate, rather, Councillors Clipsham, Fougere, Murray, Bryce and Browne spoke in favour of it.

The rationale on offer was that three years goes by pretty quickly, and because of the complexity and longer-term nature of the projects that a council shepherds through, an extra year will help them get things accomplished. Councillor Murray pointed to the two month gap around election time where things slow down dramatically. And Bryce suggested four year terms would be more cost effective. Browne noted that longer terms may improve the quality of candidates that come forward as when someone takes a position on council they may have to give something else up for only a one-term guarantee of extra employment -- the extra year may make council work more interesting for some potential councillors.

Councillor Browne then brought forward a follow-up motion (seconded by Clipsham) which was passed. It amended the original motion such that council will be asking that any change in term lengths will take effect as of the next election in 2012.

Personally, if council terms are extended, I'd be surprised if anyone in Regina will much care, let alone notice. (If you think I'm full of crap, there is a comment button at the bottom of this post.) But a couple things Councillor Browne brought up made me take notice. First, he pointed out that around elections a lot of general public consultation takes place and this is valuable. Cutting down on the frequency of this sort of consultation will be a loss to the system.

On the other hand, one of his reasons for supporting the motion was that the work of council matters and extending its term will help council get that work done and done well.

True. Maybe. But the thing is, I'm a total election junkie, and as old fashioned as it makes me sound, I think participating in elections -- often and with enthusiasm -- also matters. I recognize that upending the system to hold elections is inconvenient and disrupts the continuity of projects. But at the same time, a) that's why you hire competent city staff and b) governments aren't supposed to run efficiently. Comparing them to corporations is unfair (and ignores the fact that the idea corporations run efficiently is a complete myth). Trying to get everyone involved in governance is an inherently inefficient proposition. But we accept it because that's what's fair. And because tyranny sucks.

Still, we're not talking here about an unprecedented length of time to hold elected office. So maybe anyone getting their knickers in a knot over this is a little overreacty. And, judging by the hilariously low voter turnout numbers in our last municipal election (let alone, provincial and federal), it's clear I'm in a tiny minority as far as enjoying election time is concerned. So, I guess democracy is in effect speaking: Bring on the four year council terms!

Also on the council agenda was a collection of capital budget items that need approval now before the whole city budget is debated later this year. Discussion here focussed on money for the new Housing Incentives Policy, the relocation of the transit hub and the purchase of new buses.

I was left a little perplexed at one point with regard to the housing incentives money as Director of City Planning, Bob Bjerke, remarked that they didn't anticipate a big increase in the amount of uptake on our affordable housing encouragment scheme. Council, I think, was heartened by this as it meant city coffers wouldn't be overly taxed by housing. (Once again, it was repeated that housing is NOT part of the city's mandate. Ahhh. I never get tired of hearing that.)

B-b-b-but! Housing is in crisis! Both the province and the feds have essentially told us they're broke!. And! I thought the whole point of this policy was to encourage a big increase in the number of affordable housing starts in the city! Am I just confused on all this? (grumble grumble)

As for the transit hub relocation, that's being done to accommodate the WOW project. No longer will the stretch north of Victoria Park be our eastbound transit hub. Instead, I was surprised to discover, that will be moved to the stretch of 12th north of the central library and city hall. Apparently, the library board has been contacted on this and they are seeing about incorporating the new transit hub into their redesign.

And, as for the new bus purchases, seems these are NOT meant to replace the buses that we lost last week when 13 were removed from service after failing inspection. The two being bought with these funds are just part of the usual updating of the transit system. According to city staff, we can expect a report by the end of the week regarding the loss of those 13 buses. But staff did assure council that no service has been lost as a result of this situation.

Everything else on the agenda passed unanimously and with minimal discussion.

The meeting, by the way, was kicked off with a speech by the Mayor congratulating Councillor O'Donnell and the Olympic Host Committee for bringing the Torch to Regina.

Pick of the Day: Regina City Council Meeting

I was almost prepared to admit defeat. I mean, it had to happen some time, right? I've been doing this pick-of-the-day thing since mid-September. At some point you'd have to figure that I'd come up dry trying to find an activity to recommend. My default option has always been to pick a film playing at one of the multi-plexes, which is fair game as technically it is something to do. It just doesn't show very much imagination on my part.

Still, I'm not writing this in Montreal or Vancouver, I'm writing it in Regina. Today's Monday. It's the dead of winter. Did You Hear About the Morgans? here I come, right? Well, not so fast. I don't know what will be on the agenda, but tonight City Council happens to be meeting for the first time in 2010.

2010 promises to be another interesting year in Regina. For the last few years, the city's been engaged in a ton of studies to inform future growth and development. Soon, some of them will hopefully begin to bear fruit. Then there's the looming dust-up with the province over the latter backing away from its promise in last year's budget to direct a one-per cent share of the PST to cities to give them another source of revenue. And the housing crunch. And downtown revitalization. And the injection of new blood on Council with Chris Szarka and John Findura being elected -- okay, you get the idea.

Bottom line, there's a lot going on in Regina at present. To ensure we achieve our stated goal of being being a sustainable, progressive, inclusive city we all need to keep up to date on what's happening at City Hall. So if you get a chance, drop by City Hall tonight. Things kick off at 5:30 p.m.