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Paradise councilor not on board with new committee rules

By Mark Squibb/March 10, 2022

Paradise has changed the rules for who can participate in committee meetings, but not all councillors are on board with it.

During last week’s public meeting, councilor Elizabeth Laurie, who chairs the Administration and Corporate Services committee, presented new terms of reference for all committees of council, which led to a lengthy debate.

“The legal framework for committees of council is set, of course, by provincial legislation under the Municipalities Act, 1999,” said Laurie. “As a Town, we may establish committees that are considered desirable to consider and make recommendations.”

Laurie said the purpose of committees is to provide direction and recommendations to council, and they function as advisory bodies in support of the town’s strategic goals.

“The old terms of reference that we were using prior to this new one, they were outdated, and of course they needed to be updated,” said Laurie. “They didn’t fit out current committee structure. For example, now we have three members of council on our committees, and they align with the department. So, I’m really happy to see a standard set for a terms of reference for all of our committees, because before we would have separate terms for all our committees.”

Councilor Glen Carew, however, could not support the change.

“I think it’s no secret that I’ve really struggled with this one,” said Carew. “I mean, I understand the impetus of the terms of reference essentially is to ensure the Municipalities Act is upheld and in this particular case, it’s Section 2. 11 and 2. 13 of the Act that refer to quorum and meetings of council, or in this particular case committee meetings. I certainly have no issue with transparency and following the regulations. But with that said, I’m only an active member of two committees, Planning and Protective Services and Recreation, but I’ve sat in on pretty much every committee meeting of the five departments since being elected five months ago, and I feel its been an invaluable municipal learning experience for me as a new councilor, to be able to seek clarification on important agenda items in all those committee meetings, which are primarily resident-driven concerns.”

Carew questioned why the change was being made now, and “not five months ago when I got elected, or even five years ago, or however long ago the town went to a three-person committee?”

He also criticized a current policy that is maintained in the new terms of refence, which states that ratification of committee minutes occur at the next public council meeting. Carew argued that policy creates a delay in responding to urgent matters.

“So, any action items that are contained within those particular minutes cannot be executed until after council ratifies (them),” said Carew. “So, I honestly believe that it’s going to result in a delay in resident matters that require a timely follow up. We have a Planning and Protective Services matter on this agenda today, where the committee met on February 17, it’s an ongoing matter, and we were essentially ready to respond, but since we have to wait to ratify the minutes of that meeting, the response has been delayed, and that was a couple of weeks ago now… For all these reasons, I just don’t think I can support this terms of reference as it sits. As an alternative, I suggest we either make all committee meetings public, or go to a council-of-the whole format.”

Laurie said that was a lot to address.

“The Act is pretty clear with where it stands in regards to committee structure,” said Laurie. “We can’t have a situation where we have a quorum of council in a committee meeting behind closed doors, making decisions or having debate about an agenda item. There’s nothing to stop, in these new terms of reference, any member of council to come and participate in an observing role at a meeting. But we can’t have a situation where we’re having debate. That really needs to happen here in the public meeting.”

Again, Laurie noted that councilors may still watch committee meetings from the sidelines, as it were, and added that any councilors can put questions to staff regarding matters raised in committee meetings.

She also noted the Town is working towards making the minutes of the committee meetings public. The motion to make those minutes public was approved in early November, and minutes were supposed to have been made public by January 20.

Councilor Patrick Martin said he understood why some councilors may feel divided on the matter, but for his part, he supports the motion.

“I have to fully support this on the notion that some of our committee meetings were becoming very close to borderline contradicting the Municipalities Act,” said Martin. “We were having too much discussion behind doors, which, as councilor Laurie just mentioned, something that we have worked very hard to be open and transparent to the public and I want to make sure everything is being done in full view of the public, so that they’re fully supportive and see everything that we’re doing. Open discussion and committee of the whole is something we can definitely look into, but I think this is a positive step in the right direction. I don’t want to be in any violation of the Municipalities Act at any time in anything that we’re doing.”

Councilor Larry Vaters, who like Carew was newly elected in the fall election, spoke next.

“As a new councilor, having the opportunity at the committee level to discuss and become familiar with complex issues has certainly been invaluable, and I’ve taken every opportunity to ask questions or learn about the history of some of the long-standing challenges in the town,” said Vaters. “The committee terms of reference document is an extension of a decision early in the tenure of this council to release committee meeting minutes to the public. This document encourages discussion at the public council meeting, and the benefactors of that are those whom we represent, which of course is the people of Paradise.”

Vaters said he supports the idea of holding committee of the whole meetings, as introduced by Carew, and said he thought it would be a great idea to open those meetings to the public.

Following the discussion, council put Laurie’s motion on the new terms of reference to a vote. Carew voted against it, as he said he would, but he was the lone councilor to do so.

Council had, in years past, held closed committee of the whole meetings, or private meetings, prior to the public council meeting. Council ended that practice, they said at the time, in the spirit of transparency.

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