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Councillor wants council to have a seat at Heritage Guelph table

Motion would see council member join Heritage Guelph in a non-voting capacity to enhance communication between the committee and council
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Guelph city hall

City council is missing context when it comes to heritage recommendations, believes Coun. Cathy Downer. 

That’s why she’s planning to bring forward a motion on Tuesday evening that, if approved, would see a member of council added to the membership of Heritage Guelph (HG) in a non-voting role for the next two years.

“We’re still not hearing the conversation around the recommendations coming from Heritage Guelph,” Downer said.“I’d like to have a councillor there who can bring that conversation back to council.”

The motion, she explained, comes from a independent facilitation process that took place between HG and city staff in 2021 after issues of mistrust came to light. Communication was identified as a key issue in the report back to council, with having a councillor on the committee deemed an “opportunity for improvement.” 

“I’m just sort of bringing that forward,” Downer said of her motion. "I think it would be needed just to see how it goes for a couple years."

The facilitation process included a review of heritage committees in three other municipalities – Waterloo, Ottawa and Oakville – each of which have council members sitting on the committee.

Representatives of those municipalities spoke with the facilitator. Summaries of those conversations in the report include observations about having council members on the committee such as: they “curb rigidity by encouraging flexible and objective discussions”; “put a check on staff”; they “help to keep the communication strong between the committee and council at critical decision points”; and it “elevated the profile of heritage significantly not only with council, but in general.”

Comment summaries also note council participation in Ottawa has resulted in heritage committee meetings being “more formal, resulting in less discussion at times.”

The idea of having a council member sit on HG as a non-voting member has the support of the committee’s chair.

“If this is introduced, on behalf of Heritage Guelph, I applaud the motion and cannot strongly enough encourage its’ adoption,” chair P. Brian Skerrett says in a letter to council. “Including a councillor on the Heritage Guelph membership is an important and welcome way to meet our challenges, leverage our opportunities, improve communication and to honour our shared commitment to heritage conservation.”

The recent approval of the provincial government’s Bill 23, the More Homes Built Faster Act, and its impact on heritage issues makes the motion all the more timely, Downer said. That bill amended several pieces of legislation with the stated goal of increasing the housing supply throughout Ontario. 

As part of that, changes to the Ontario Heritage Act (OHA) would require properties on municipal heritage registries to be removed if not formally designated within two years and they can’t be re-listed for at least five years, as well as increase the criteria needed for a property to qualify for designation.

Downer said she’s spoken with several of her council colleagues and hopes to have enough support for the motion to pass. However, she notes, it would first require a two-thirds majority to suspend a bylaw stating there won’t be council members on advisory committees.

“I’m hoping I’ll get that support,” Downer said. 

Who would the councillor like to see represent council on HG?

“If it gets approved, we’ll see who puts their name forward.”