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The Calendar Man strikes again!

This week's Market Squared considers the arguments for and against moving council start times to 10 am.
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In DC Comics, one of Batman’s rogues gallery is a character called the Calendar Man. He commits holiday-themed crimes around certain dates, and while he isn’t one of the most famous Dark Knight baddies, he was famous enough to appear briefly in the most recent Suicide Squad movie. Blink and you’ll miss him.

Speaking of calendar-related crimes – kidding – let’s talk about the irony-dripping post-midnight debate about the 2023 council and committee calendar.

First, I want to confront the fact that here again, someone has come to council with the idea that being a city councillor is no longer an “after school job," and once again, council thoroughly avoided confirmation that the job may be changing from something requiring part-time attention to something different.

Along with these notions, I remember reading a correspondence in the agenda package that compared council work to that of any volunteer-run board for the dozens of non-profits in the city. Is that really how we want to think of city council, something you fit into the end of a busy workday?

Look, the many people that sit on non-profit boards do great work for our community, but I think many of us have had board experiences where we’ve noted that some people were dedicated to the cause than others. It’s understandable when you put the emphasis on that word, “volunteer," but being a city councillor is a paying job. It’s a kind of accountability.

And on top of that, I’ve never been on a volunteer board of directors that held a meeting that went past midnight. Usually, if a board meeting’s getting long in the tooth, you hit the gas pedal or simply defer some of the less important matters to the next month. This is slightly harder when it comes to council business, which can often come with millions of dollars worth of consequence in every decision.  

Still, this is a fascinating question (if you’re a municipal politics nerd, granted) and I can’t say that I have a firm opinion about what council should have done one way or the other.

Would a move to 10 am start times mean that no one will be available to delegate? I don’t know, maybe. I know that timing is not always the only barrier for shift workers from being politically involved, because working 40 or 50 hours a week at odd hours doesn’t necessarily generate a lot of free time.

Another thing that I know having attended every council meeting this term is that you see many of the same faces delegating time and time again. There are exceptions of course, planning meetings always bring out new people, but in terms of the big picture stuff, there’s a proverbial Dirty Dozen who always have notes at the end of a city master plan or policy initiative.

Maybe we should cut the baby in half. Maybe there’s a world in which we can do the presentation and decision making at meetings that start in the morning and hold a special delegations night in the evening. We already do this for the budget process; we get a full day to interrogate a report, a full day to make decisions, and an open forum in-between to hear from the public.

Doing that for all council business was never an option presented, but if there’s to be more public engagement and discussion about the future of the council calendar then maybe the debate should be bigger than the question of 10 a.m. or 10 p.m.

Of course, that more broader debate might be easier to have if there’s a council where a significant portion of the body haven’t become so firmly entrenched in their ways.

You see, changing the process mid-stream, or halfway through a term, doesn’t work because council has already established something as the regular order or business, and changing it now should be a decision best left to the new council, who also have certain expectations about what council does and when it does it. I mean, some people have already filed their papers, right?!

Damned if you do, damned if you do it a little later. And while I embrace my own uncertainty, I note that the originating idea for a 10 a.m. council start time came from looking at city policy again through a lens of equity and inclusion.

Forget the fact that the construction of equity always requires some sacrifice on the part of the majority, but there was something distasteful about watching a board of predominately affluent middle-aged white people say this is not the equity they want.

But to come back to my first point, this council has been confronted time and time again with the suggestion that the way the City has been administered for the last 30-some years just doesn’t quite cut it anymore.

They’ve been told that part-time councillors aren’t enough, they’ve been told that six wards are too few, and now they’ve been told that council is not an evening gig. Each time, council has disagreed.

The Calendar Man may be a dopey villain, but he can’t be underestimated. Perhaps it should be noted for the awareness of everyone running for council this year that the job is never static. Not that it ever was.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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