It's that time of year again, the time when visions of committee chair appointments are dancing in the heads of our council.
But it's not just the individual councillors who are affected. The decisions that will be made this week will significantly impact the functioning of the entire council and therefore the city as a whole. It is through committees that issues confronting council are studied and debated and recommendations are made. The vast majority of these will go unchallenged by council as a whole since only a few councillors take the time and effort to keep abreast of what is happening on committees on which they do not serve if the issue is not directly related to their wards.
You may recall the fiasco that we experienced last year at this time. The mayor, with the aid of the longest serving councillor, Bud Polhill, ensured that all but one of the standing committees were dominated by his then supporters, and only members of the Fontana 8 were granted chair positions. Several councillors who were not part of the self-selected group were limited to serving on one committee, although a councillor may serve on two.
When I served on council there was competition for both standing committee chair positions but there was a real effort to try to accommodate individual preferences as well as encouraging members to rotate their membership, not always an easy task. The work of some committees is more challenging and time consuming than others and bring you into contact with a different set of lobbyists. There may be more media attention as well.
No doubt these variables were on the minds of at least some of the councillors when they were listing their choices in order of preference, an exercise that all are asked to undertake. Specify your choices from 1 to 5 in order of preference, 1 being first choice, 5 meaning "not with a ten-foot pole".
Just around the calendar is the 2014 municipal election. A councillor who is seeking re-election may have to consider which will be more beneficial: selecting a high profile committee to chair or finding something easy that gives you lots of time to campaign. Those not seeking re-election won't care, but they may have their sights on other opportunities that have to be taken into account.
The only councillor to have conclusively ruled out another municipal run is Nancy Branscombe. She's not seeking out any chair positions; she's quite happy to stick with Community and Protective Services (CPSC), a committee that rarely has long meetings, and if needed, take on Civic Works, which involves a lot of tenders but is also fairly efficient. In fact, she hasn't indicated any interest in anything else. Her focus is on the provincial election expected in the spring.
And who can blame her? She put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into heading up the Services Review Committee for two or three years only to have all the work ignored, even undermined, by a slim majority of councillors at budget time. Who needs that?
Joe Swan, too, indicated a preference for only two committees. He wants the big stuff, the committees that deal with administration and finances and growth. He chairs the Investment and Economic Prosperity Committee (IEPC), the committee of big ideas and small pockets, and he wants to keep that position, although he is being challenged by Matt Brown, his vice-chair. Brown is planning to run for mayor, and chairing that committee might look good on his resume. Swan also wants to keep his spot on the mayor-chaired Corporate Services Committee which deals with finances and human resources. The latter choice is somewhat ironic considering his current problems at Orchestra London: losing his highly respected artistic director, Alain Trudel, and having difficulty negotiating a deal with the musicians.
Besides wanting to chair the IEPC, Brown (that's Matt, not Denise) has expressed an interest in the Civic Works Committee. Why not? He's on it now, nothing new to learn. It won't take much time and time is what he needs to campaign for mayor while still holding down a teaching job.
One committee that takes a lot of time, work and expertise is the Planning and Environment Committee (PEC). This year there aren't many clamouring to be on it, only three, and all want to be chair. Bud Polhill has held that position throughout this term, and he likes it. He knows all the developers who will come before the committee with their applications and requests for delegation status. There's hardly a one that doesn't donate generously to his campaigns so he can afford the time. He doesn't have to beat the bushes to find contributors.
Vying with him for committee chair is Joni Baechler. I have worked with Baechler and know that her grasp of planning matters is unsurpassed on this council and perhaps any council in the country. Despite her knowledge and expertise, she has been passed over deliberately since the beginning of the term by the mayor and, initially, with the aid of Matt Brown. In fact, last year she was given her least favoured choice and barred from serving on more than one committee.
The third contender is Sandy White. Her understanding of planning is minimal; she has yet to ask a relevant question. Perhaps that's why she wants to be chair. It would free her from asking any questions until other members of the committee had done so. All that would be left is to ask the applicant “How can we help get you what you want?” and “Is that fast enough for you?”
Dale Henderson, too, has indicated he wouldn't mind serving on PEC. He's there now and has lots of ideas for doing things differently. The planning process, the legislation, the regulatory authorities are all too cumbersome for him. But he doesn't mind making irrelevant observations and motions that can't find a seconder. It's his second choice, next to IEPC, on which he already serves as well. Blue sky thinking fits in a little better there, but he forgets that his job is to make decisions. He keeps wanting to re-invent the process or hi-jack it entirely. He has hinted that he may not be running again; he's thinking of trying his luck in the municipality where he resides.
Then there's Bill Armstrong. He doesn't like to spend any more time at city hall than he has to, which is why he lobbied hard to get funding for an office in his ward. He is unique in his statement of preferences: he wants to serve on only one standing committee, the Community and Protective Services Committee. Over the years, that has been his home. He has rarely served on anything else.
That leaves Judy Bryant, Paul VanMeerbergen, Denise Brown, Harold Usher, Paul Hubert, and Stephen Orser.
Bryant is not looking for any changes to her current responsibilities; she wants to continue on Corporate Services Committee and CPSC. She is no longer interested in chairing either of them, nor any other that she may be required to join. Similarly, Paul VanMeerbergen would like an extension of his membership on Civic Works and IEPC. Just don't make him a chair. He would rather just say “No.” In fact, he effectively said no to all other committees, giving them all the lowest possible ranking of 5.
Denise Brown, on the other hand, wants to stick with CPSC and would be willing to take on Civic Works, but, in either event, she wants to be the chair. She has gotten a taste of chairing meetings and she likes it. She may run into problems getting the needed support from the mayor, however, since she abandoned the Fontana 8 earlier this year.
Like Brown, Usher is looking to continue his current responsibilities on the CPSC and Civic Works. But he does like to chair and hasn't had a chance to do so this past year. He's contesting Brown for chairing the Civic Works Committee. He needs something current to add to his list of responsibilities at the bottom of his signature.
Hubert, too, would like to chair a committee, preferably Civic Works, which seems to be almost everyone’s choice, but he's prepared to chair Planning if he can't get his first or second choice. He would also like to get a shot at membership on the mayor's Corporate Services Committee. This past year, he was blocked by the mayor's cronies from serving on any committee other than planning. It may have put a damper on any thoughts he may have had about running for mayor, especially now that Matt Brown has all but declared. But there is still time, and a chair position is helpful whether running for mayor or ward councillor.
And finally, there is Orser. Like several others, he is looking for no changes. The positions he currently holds—Civic Works and IEPC—are not too demanding and provide enough publicity. If not, he will be sure to come up with something eye-catching, even outrageous, and the media loves it. That leaves him plenty of time to peddle his fridge magnets door to door by day and spout incoherently and ungrammatically on Facebook by night.
So how will it all come out?
Given what happened last time, I would not expect significant changes from the current line-up, but one can never tell. I can indicate, however, how I think the committees should be populated considering what we have to work with and trying to get the best for the city while ensuring that our councillors get as much diversified experience as possible. Chair positions are given to those who have been blocked previously and who have demonstrated skill in chairing meetings. Additionally, I took into consideration the role of the administration; staff need to be able to deal with a chair who has some grasp of the issues and processes before the committee.
Corporate Services Committee:
Chair: Mayor Fontana (that's the rule). Members: Nancy Branscombe, Paul Hubert, Joni Baechler, Paul VanMeerbergen.
Rationale: Branscombe, Hubert, Baechler all get big picture thinking and understand the budget. PVM will provide balance by challenging spending on anything but roads.
Chair: Paul Hubert. Members: Harold Usher, Denise Brown, Stephen Orser, Dale Henderson.
Rationale: Usher knows public transit, Brown no longer has Aboutown conflict, Orser is interested in underpasses or overpasses, Henderson needs to learn what Civic Works are.
Community and Protective Services:
Chair: Nancy Branscombe. Members: Joe Swan, Sandy White, Bud Polhill.
Rationale: Branscombe is efficient, White is a social worker; Swan, Henderson and Polhill need to do something new.
Planning and Environment:
Chair: Joni Baechler. Members: Judy Bryant, Bill Armstrong, Matt Brown, Steve Orser.
Rationale: Baechler knows planning as does Bryant; Brown needs to learn planning if he wants to be mayor, Orser and Armstrong need to do some work.
Investment and Economic Prosperity:
Chair: Matt Brown. Members: Bill Armstrong, Denise Brown, Paul Hubert, Harold Usher.
Rationale: Brown is a good chair. Swan has too many conflicts given his position with Orchestra London, the remainder create a good balance from around the city.
This is not a prediction nor does it represent the best of all possible worlds. It's just an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, one that could be alleviated by the next election.
And that's where you come in!