Symbolic Budget Vote For Councillor Equality

City Council passed the 2019 Operating and Capital Budget on March 20th. Two thirds of Council did not support the budget. I did not vote to support the budget but instead cast a symbolic vote against the budget to raise awareness on the critical need for ‘Councillor Equality’ in crafting the budget. The Mayor and his appointed budget working group make up 9 votes – which is majority – so regardless of how I cast my vote – the budget would pass.  I chose to cast my vote against the budget to raise the awareness of the lack of Councillor Equality.

  • Every Councillor is democratically elected or acclaimed to represent their 40-45,000 constituents.
  • Councillors do not represent political parties at City Hall, but instead represent their constituents interests and in theory work together to build a stronger City.
  • The budget is the one document that sets the City’s priorities – tax dollars are allocated to projects and operations each year. Councillors and the Public Service work throughout the year to deliver services and projects BASED on the priorities set out in the annual budget.

This year’s budget, which sets the priorities and direction for the City for 2019  – was crafted by 8 Councillors and the Mayor (the budget working group). These 8 Councillors and the Mayor decided the priorities and direction for the City, and allocated tax dollars accordingly. The budget working group met for approximately 2.5 months, and had extensive presentations and discussions with the Public Service, and amongst themselves.

The 7 Councillors who were not part of contributing to the priorities and direction for the City were not privy to presentations and sharing of information by the Public Service and were not part of group discussions with members of the budget working group. I was not part of the budget working group, so I held a Waverley West Ward Budget Consultation to ensure the Chair of Finance was acutely aware of the Waverley West Ward priorities.

It was only when the draft budget was made public, that the 7 Councillors could review the $1B budget, and scrutinize on behalf of their residents. The Councillors had 7 business days to bring forward any recommendation of change to the budget working group.  It is impossible to properly scrutinize the City’s $1B budget in seven days with no background or detailed financials and make meaningful recommendations.

I fundamentally believe the current process used to set the priorities and direction for the City on an annual basis is wrong.

  • I believe all Councillors should receive equal representation in crafting the budget
  • I believe all Councillors should receive information and departmental briefings to assist in setting the priorities and direction for the City
  • I believe residents want all Councillor equally involved in crafting the City budget

Background: City’s Governance Model has not been reviewed in 20 years

  • Business, corporation and not for profits are constantly looking at best practices and approaches on how they gather information and distribute to ensure they make the best decisions possible for their stakeholders
  • A governance structure forms the very foundation of how all decisions are made – and in the City – forms the basis on how tax dollars ultimately are invested
  • The City has not reviewed its governance model in over 20 years. Since 1999, society has made tremendous technological advances in the way we gather, share and distribute information to support better decision making.  Good governance forms the very foundation of how we make decisions – and invest tax payer dollars
  • Some may recall I called to change the procedure enabling Councillors to have four business days – instead of 96 hours over a weekend – to read committee reports before making decisions. It took over 6 months for that change to occur, but it did and I absolutely know better decisions are being made because of the increased time Councillors have to review information

Optimistic for better decision making abilities on how we set priorities and  invest tax dollars

  • I supported a Governance Review motion back in 2016, the motion was delayed for over a year, but eventually the request for funding to conduct a review was approved in the 2018 budget. Its 2019 and we still have not started the review due to a plethora of reasons – the potential shifting of power being the main reason.  BUT– I still see securing governance review funding as a huge step in forward in moving a mountain –– it will ultimately happen
  • I also see a glimmer of hope in the 2019 budget – $100,000 has been included to develop a strategic plan and determine a more ‘consultative’ approach in developing budgets
  • One of my campaign commitments was to work to ensure City Council develop a strategic plan for the City – virtually every newly elected Council in Canadian cities sets out a strategic plan for their term after being elected. The strategic planning process works with ALL Councillors to set priorities for the City, THEN uses the budget to support those priorities
  • I have come to understand over the years, that while some things are included in the budget process, like a governance review and strategic plan, it could take months if not years to take action on

Only time will tell if Council does move forward on developing a strategic plan and conduct a governance review. I know both these actions would greatly improve the way we make decisions and invest tax dollars at City Hall – and would result in a redistribution of power. I look forward to the day all Councillors have equal representation in setting the priorities and budget for our city. Moving mountains takes time – and I am committed to continuing chiseling away.

MEDIA – thank you for covering this important issue:  

Media has done a great job of covering the overall City budget – I will post highlights of specific initiatives related to the Waverley West Ward in the coming days.