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This is your chance to shape local government

This week's Market Squared asks you to put your cynicism aside and take part in the review of council composition, compensation, and ward boundaries
20160201 Guelph City Hall Sign KA
GuelphToday file photo

It wasn’t the most controversial item at Committee of the Whole this week, but it might get more controversial as the process now begins to review the composition of city council, the ward boundaries, and the quality of compensation and employment status for councillors/

Already, our social media chorus has seemingly been split into two groups. On the one hand, people are concerned about the consolidation of power and the creation a permanent ruling class in the city. On the other hand, we’ve got some other people saying that council will inevitably get bigger meaning more tax money for more lazy politicians.

Yes, those lazy city councillors who can spend nearly five months running for an office that then adds sometimes an extra 30 or 40 hours of responsibility per week on top of their career, family, and social commitments. And all for a mind blowing $34,000 including expenses.

Everywhere I go I see municipal politicians driving Ferraris! Or drinking expensive champagne…

It’s akin to the general caterwauling we get every spring when the province releases “the Sunshine List” figures, the visceral reaction to which is always “those lazy bureaucrats getting rich off us taxpayers!”

For some strange reason, we think that people working in the public service should be paupers, we demand that they take a vow of poverty. Apparently, their knowledge, expertise and hard work should not be compensated adequately with a salary that allows them a solid, middle class lifestyle.

Meanwhile, as I’m writing this, CP24 has a helicopter following a black SUV that’s believed to be farriering Kawhi Leonard to talks about continuing on with the Toronto Raptors, which could mean a king’s ransom for the L.A.-based basketball player. No judgment, but there are more than a few people ready to pay that ransom even as they nickel and dime people who work in local governance.

That may be stretching things, but I have always wondered why we don’t think twice about big paycheques for some people like professional athletes and movie stars, and why we so scrutinize whether others, like minimum wage service employees, are worthy of a living wage. But that’s a discussion for another time.

This study about the composition of council has been a long time in coming, and the renumeration portion of it will be one piece of the discussion, and from my point of view, it’s the smallest piece.

The bigger piece? Well, as far back as you can look on the internet, which is 1991, city council has been made up of one mayor, and 12 councillors, two from each ward.

Think about what Guelph looked like in 1991. According to Statistics Canada, the population was 88,440, and the Hartsland Plaza at the corner of Edinburgh and Kortright was the hot new commercial development in south end. A few blocks away, new subdivisions were starting to spring up, starting a crawl of development that would take Guelph all the way to Clair Rd.

The ward boundaries will be the most interesting piece of the review, at least to me. The ground you have to cover in Ward 6 now is extraordinary with all the subdivisions and high-density developments that have been built over the last 28 years.

Ward 1 can make a similar point, so many new subdivisions have sprung up in the area of Watson Pkwy in the last 10 years, and given that much of downtown is still covered in Ward 1, I think a point can be made, and perhaps the current Ward 1 councillors will agree, that they’re covering two very different parts of the city now with their own unique needs.

So how that misshaped box that’s Guelph municipal election map gets redrawn is the biggest question hanging over the review, followed by the question of whether or not those wards will be big with two councillors, or perhaps smaller with one councillor.

Full-time councillors, I think, are not in the cards. A study published by the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario (AMCTO) last year noted that only six per cent of municipalities in Ontario have full-time councillors. Most of those cities have populations over 250,000, and none have a population less than 100,000.

Although the comment is frequently made that government doesn’t listen, I think this will be the one opportunity you will want to be heard.

If you feel like the people of Guelph are not being represented well by the current council structure, or that the election map as it’s stood for almost 30 years now just doesn’t make sense, then this is your chance to make your thoughts known.

If you think the time has come for Guelph to make the leap to a single full-time councillor per ward, or if you think that we’re better served with two part-time councillors per ward, then this your chance to make your thoughts known.

I mean, how often do you literally get to make government?