Adding two more councillors
a shrewd investment in democracy

Sometime today, amid what is expected to be an all-day budget session, Osoyoos Council will discuss increasing its number to seven from its current five.

To be more specific, earlier this year Council asked staff to investigate the “costing of adding an additional two Councillors to Council.”

A report prepared by the Janette Van Vianen, the Town’s Director of Corporate Services, suggests a decision to increase Council size would add between $42,000 and $50,000 to Council’s current stipend, expenses and benefits cost.

Fiscal hawks will be quick to jump on this additional expense as unnecessary.

But a careful review of provincial Community Charter and Local Government Act legislation, Council participation and the more enigmatic measurements of diversity and consistency suggests such a move to a Council of seven — a mayor and six councillors — is an issue worth serious discussion.

The provincial Charter establishes the size of a council according to the type and population of the municipality. A Town or Village must have at least a mayor and four councillors, a municipality of less than 50,000 people a mayor and six councillors.

That would seem to make for clear direction: the Town of Osoyoos should have a five-member Council.

Except that it’s no longer a sure thing that Osoyoos is a town.

Section 17(1) of the Charter says a municipality MUST be incorporated as a city if the population is greater than 5,000.

In February, National Census data released by Statistics Canada put the Town of Osoyoos’ “enumerated population” at 5,085 — just above the 5,000 Town threshold but nonetheless within the city classification.

Based largely on additional policing costs it would have to absorb, Council immediately undertook a process to challenge StatCan’s figures. That has led to a review that likely will take up to a year.

Here’s the rub: municipal elections are scheduled for October 2018. Acting proactively, Council can prepare for city status — much like it has set aside funds in the event its policing costs increase — by incorporating a seven-member city-size Council beginning with the October election.

The alternative is to hold a fall election and seat four councillors and then wait for the StatsCan review.

If that review affirms the 5,000-plus population, Council would then have to consider incorporating as a city and holding a special election to seat two additional councillors — an event that doesn’t come without cost.

But even if the Town’s stature remains intact, there’s value in increasing Council’s size.

A review of Council minutes over 2017 shows of the 30 regular and special meetings held, 11 (or 37 percent) were conducted with at least one Council member absent.

On five of those occasions, two members were absent.

To be clear here, this Osoyoos Council is not a slack-seated bunch prone to skipping meetings and delivering half-assed efforts; the actions of each in their Council function express commitment and engagement.

No, members are absent because just like the rest of us, they have lives. They work, go on vacation, attend functions outside of the community and even get stuck elsewhere when the weather turns bad.

On a majority of issues, a limited Council does not make for much of a difference as the discussion turns to voting. Councils tend to develop a unified mindset as their collective understanding increases. But there are occasions when differences arise and the lack of a contrary opinion — and accompanying vote — carries considerable weight in an issue’s resolution.

If, for example, two progressive-minded councillors are absent — leaving two conservatives and a progressive to vote on an issue — the outcome of a vote could be the exact opposite of what might occur if all were present.

Members of Council have statutory responsibilities to consider the “well-being and interests of the municipality and its community” and to “contribute to the development and evaluation of the policies and programs of the municipality respecting its services and other activities.”

That supposes diverse opinion, thorough discussion and thoughtful consideration — characteristics made increasingly robust as the number of those engaged in the conversation also increases.

Inversely, such consideration is largely reduced as the number of members involved in a discussion is reduced — to the extreme of being unilateral and perhaps even arbitrary if only one person is making the decision.

That makes the nominal cost of two additional councillors — at an increase of about three-tenths of one-percent to the Town’s general government budget of $1.64 million — a shrewd investment in democracy.

Council, sometime today, should move this issue forward for further review and consideration — both by its own body of five and perhaps by the community as a whole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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