LETTER: Plan to limit council deputations concerning

Until January 14th, residents of PEC are able to comment on the proposed new Procedural By-law currently under review on the County’s Have Your Say website.

As stated on Have Your Say, “The procedural by-law governs the way that Council and board/committee meetings run. The by-law includes rules for how municipal meetings are called, who is involved, where they happen, and how they proceed. This by-law also guides residents’ interactions with Council, the conduct of Council, and the way the municipality communicates about meetings.”

In terms of determining how democracy plays out on a local level, it is a very important by-law. Prince Edward County Field Naturalists finds two of the proposed changes deeply concerning.

The first regards 10-minute deputations. In a deputation, any person may, by written notice to the Clerk, request an opportunity to address the members of Council on any matter within the jurisdiction of the Municipality. This draft is proposing that 10-minute deputations be limited to three per meeting in an attempt to make meetings shorter. In the existing by-law, there is no limit to the number of deputations allowed at a meeting.

Our other concern is that Section 5.15 (7) in the current Procedural By-law has been removed in the proposed new by-law. It states: “Where a particular matter is expected to generate a large number of deputations (namely, ten (10) deputations or more), the Council or Committee of the Whole may pass a resolution to hold a special meeting in order to afford all deputations an opportunity to address the Council or Committee of the Whole or the Mayor may call a special meeting.”

Our concern here is that all meetings including special meetings will be capped at three deputations, even when there are matters on the agenda that attract a lot of public interest and attention. In our view limiting the number of deputations to three per meeting is inappropriate and not in the best interest of the County. We do not want or need a procedure that puts members of the public in the position of having to compete for a “seat at the table” or that could (and probably will) lead to some deputations never being heard. We worry that it puts our democracy at risk. We want a Procedural By-law that encourages opportunities for participation in the democratic process, not one that diminishes opportunities by adding more impediments such as limiting deputations to three. A Procedural By-law should create positive opportunities for County residents who would like their points of view to become a matter of public record and who have information they consider is of value to Council and to the County as decisions are made that affect our future. We do not agree that limiting the number of deputations to three per meeting respects the important role the public plays in contributing to the County’s present and future wellbeing. Over the last six months there was only one Council meeting that contained more than three deputations on the agenda (we did not check COTW agendas). At that meeting there were only four deputations. Other jurisdictions do not limit the number of deputations allowed at meetings.

A tweet from a Council meeting held in Markham in February 2020 states: “Congratulations. Democracy is well and alive at Markham Council which has spoken at its Marathon Council meeting after listening to over 70 deputations. It took over six hours of intense debate. The vote was conclusive 8 to 5.”

If you are concerned these proposed changes to the Procedural By-law will limit the public’s ability to meaningfully engage with government, we urge you to contact Have Your Say by January 14th and also, to let your councillors know. A Special Committee of the Whole meeting will be held on January 26, 2022 to discuss the changes to the Procedural By-Law.

Anyone who would like to provide a deputation or give a 3-minute comment can email the Clerk’s Office: clerks@pecounty.on.ca.

Amy Bodman

President,

Prince Edward County Field Naturalists