|Posted by Winnipeg Chapter on October 9, 2010 at 1:30 PM|
The Mayor's EPC does not favour democracy
City Council’s Executive Policy Committee (EPC) is supposed to be an impartial body that “formulates and presents recommendations to council respecting policies, plans, budgets, by-laws and other matters that affect the city as a whole.”(1) It is expected to act in the best interests of the citizens of Winnipeg for the good of the City. It is not expected to allow personal considerations or members’ business interests to influence its decisions.
Composed of the mayor, “any other members of council appointed by the mayor”(2) and the chairs of the standing committees (also appointed by the Mayor), it’s difficult to see how the EPC could remain impartial. At present*, there are seven members out of a total of fifteen on City Council, one of whom is the “other member of council”(2) personally appointed by the mayor, without any requirement for consultation or consensus with the rest of council.
In the case of a genuinely unbiased mayor and council, such a system might do wonders for expediency. However, when people allow themselves to be swayed by their own self-interest, it can too easily become nothing more than a tool of promotion for one’s own benefit.
Other Canadian cities also have EPCs or some version of an EPC; however Winnipeg is the only municipality that allows one person’s choice to carry such enormous weight, and the only EPC comprising such a high proportion of council members. In Toronto, the council appoints four fellow councillors to the executive in addition to the chairs of all Standing Committees; the total number is only twelve EPC members out of the forty-five city councillors. Vancouver, Calgary and Regina all have a system of boards, committees and commissions composed of both councillors and citizens who together make recommendations to council. The structure of these councils would indicate that they welcome accountability and want the involvement of the people they serve.
If the Mayor of Winnipeg wants to push through a certain project or deal there is little room for lively debate, no need for true public consultation and little motivation for thorough due diligence. This method of operation has been demonstrated by the secret thirty-year contract with an international water corporation of questionable reputation, which EPC unanimously approved of in the face of widespread opposition. (click here to read more about this deal.)
More worrisome is the potential for financial conflict of interest. If the Mayor should have business interests that overlap with council decisions on policy, it becomes nearly impossible for EPC members (remember they are personally appointed by the Mayor) to act impartially for the good of the city, without being influenced by the Mayor’s preferences. While the City of Winnipeg Charter prevents any member of council from voting on a question or motion where the member “...has, under the general law, a conflict of interest in respect of the question or motion”(2) it would seem that under the present structure that the mayor - even when abstaining - has six votes, all with other people’s names on them.
Not long ago, council voted to forgive a debt arising from a needlessly complicated situation involving the Mayor's ball team, the Mayor's non-profit corporation (Riverside Park Management) and it's unpaid bill of $233,000 for a parking lot leased from the City and sublet to the Goldeyes. Because of situations like this, Winnipeggers and a majority of councillors (seven out of the thirteen present for the vote on February 18, 2009) want the province to review the conflict of interest rules and give the provincial Conflict of Interest Commissioner more authority over the City. To date, nothing has been done. For the record, Mayor Katz voted against the motion.
Winnipeg has a long history of cultural, racial and class divides that have lead to weak government, lack of leadership, and an overly powerful bureaucracy. “Instead of major problems being confronted, managed and resolved, by either critical self-examination, negotiation, or attempts at reconciliation, the city has been stymied by the politics of denial, evasion, suppression and displacement.”(1992) (3)
Sounds a lot like what’s still happening today, nearly twenty years later.
Contributor: Mary McCandless, Council of Canadians - Winnipeg Chapter
*Until the sad passing of Councillor Clement on May 3rd, 2010.
(1) 2007 City of Winnipeg Municipal Manual
(2) City of Winnipeg Charter
(3) The Failure of Urban Government: The Case of Winnipeg, Kent Gerecke and Barton Reid. In “Political Arrangements” Henri Lustiger-Thaler, ed.
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