Markham committee debates new council meeting times and speaking limits
Nov. 7, 2016
By Amanda Persico
When and how a debate happens in Markham council is up for debate.
During a recent committee meeting, city staff recommended changes to the city’s procedural bylaw in the name of better clarity, plain language and more efficient council meetings.
Several changes are housekeeping items such as adding new definitions and clarifying others.
Other recommendations hit at the heart of democracy for some residents - changing evening council meeting times to first thing in the morning and limiting in-person delegations.
“Democracy is mess at the best of times,” said Unionville resident Reid McAlpine, who pushed for more public consultation on the new procedures.
He also noted changing council meeting times is also an accessibility issue.
But Mayor Frank Scarpitti argued how council does business, and how residents get their opinions heard, is changing.
“Now, we have more tools. Feedback is by the minute,” he said of social media. “Back then if you couldn’t make it in you had to write a letter and wait for a response.”
He also argued with video streaming options soon to be available, council and committee meetings would be even more accessible.
Staff looked at the procedures of 16 other municipalities: Aurora, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, London, Mississauga, Oakville, Oshawa, Ottawa, Richmond Hill, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vaughan, Waterloo, Whitby and York Region.
In Markham, all elected members of council sit on standing committees - general committee and development services committee, as well as special committees such as the York University Markham campus committee.
City staff are proposing a five-minute speaking limit for individuals and those speaking on behalf of a group.
Councillors would also adhere to speaking limits - unlimited for the first time during a committee meeting or 10 minutes during a council meeting, then restricted to five minutes thereafter.
And in-person delegations will only be heard at committee, instead of at both committee and council, which often leads to councillors hearing the same delegation twice.
And councillors agreed, committee is where the debate happens, while council passes resolutions.
Of the 16 other municipalities, 11 have a five-minute speaking limit and seven do not allow delegations at council.
City staff also proposed moving evening council meetings to the morning, similar to Vaughan, Mississauga, Brampton and Toronto.
According to a staff report, in the past 24 council meetings, which start at 7 p.m., 12 carried on past 10 p.m. and five went past midnight. Also, in the past 24 council meetings there were on average less than five in-person delegations made, the same number made in committee.
The proposal also calls for committee meetings to be at 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“We talk about open and transparency,” Regional Councillor Jim Jones said. “My boss is the people of Markham. Imagine if we had the arena debate in the afternoon.”
Under the proposed changes, council would still have the authority to call special council meetings held in the evening.
The debate on speaking limits and changing council meeting times will continue during the next general committee meeting, Nov. 14.
Plain language changes: