Starting 2018 Milton will have two additional regional councillors. This required re-visiting number of local councillors to balance boundaries. There were two options: 1) add two additional councillors for a total Council of size 13 or 2) two fewer councillors for a total Council size of 9. Staff recommendation was Council size of 9, which is what our Mayor favoured as well. This post explains why I agree with our staff and Mayor.
Fewer politicians is not always the right approach. One of the things PM Harper got right was increasing the number of MPs in the Parliament to improve representation by population. City of Toronto absolutely must increase number of councillors to make sure people continue to have representation they deserve (fortunately, it’s doing that). United States could substantially improve its political system by doubling or tripling members of Congress (unfortunately they won’t do that).
In a representative democracy, voters must be able to appoint, and access, representatives to fight for their behalf.
In light of this, this week’s Milton council’s decision to set the size of its council to 9 members, rather than 13, seems like a poor decision. However, as is often the case, devil’s in the details.
On Monday the Council also renewed the transit contract, merely 3 days before it expired. A delay in the vote would cancel all transit services in Milton. Staff had also written two versions of a report, one recommending a library in the new Sherwood Community Centre in ward 8 (Savoline and Main) and one with no library. They did this because the library lease was not signed until the deadline for the report.
Increasing number of councillors would not have changed any of this.
9 councillors are perfectly capable of providing good representation, provided that they have proper training and support. 13 councillors will continue to provide poor representation without training and support.
Milton stands alone when compared to virtually any municipality around us (whether councillors are part-time or full-time) that provides councillors with $0 budget for training and communicating with constituents. THAT, and not number of councillors, is the real problem.
Not giving councillors any budget for education gives corporate staff incredible power as councillors must take what they are told on face value in absence of the ability to get properly educated. When public and staff are at odds, something that happens from time to time, councillors in Milton only have same staff as source of information that they oversee. That is neither very democratic nor particularly smart.
In past 6 years in the Council not a single councillor has ever complained that they were not able to meet or talk to every constituent who wanted to meet or talk to them. However, on many occasions councillors mentioned that they had to vote relying on staff recommendation and explanation in a domain that they otherwise did not understand well.
This shortchanges residents. It is utterly stupid to elect people to represent you but provide them with no discretionary budget for continuing education or communicating with constituents.
I represent the largest ward in Milton by population. Doubling e-mails and phone calls I receive will not have much of an influence in my ability to provide service to my constituents, since the challenge I face isn’t number of phone calls and e-mails.
Proponents of 13 council members are aware of this and argue that we should be able to increase councillors by 4 (9 to 13) and still add more budget for staff and expenses. Unfortunately in real-life money doesn’t grow on trees. The reason why we have not been able to solve this problem in so many years is because at budget time constituents prefer hard services (library, park, arena, bus, roads) over concepts (democratic representation).
The reason I supported 9 councillors over 13 is because it gives us the opportunity to finally fix this issue. We can add an education and communications budget, similar to every other municipality around us, and still save a ton of money for taxpayers. That will give a much better representation for constituents, rather than simply adding four more seat warmer with no training or support.
For now, residents are better represented by 9 councillors who have the ability to attend seminars and education session independently (AMO provides plenty of opportunities) without having to trust staff on every issue, rather than 13 councillors following the status quo of having staff as the only source of information.
As for more council members, we will have another review in 8 years and will likely add at least 2 (if not more) councillors. But we will do it properly, with proper education and communications budget like every other municipality around us.
To wrap up, the system we adopted is very similar to Oakville. Each ward will have 1 local and 1 regional councillor. That’s partly why Town staff recommended going with 9 councillors, and the Mayor of Milton voted for 9 councillors. Majority of Council, myself included, agreed with the Mayor.
But Zee, doesn’t this mean less representation?
No. Currently we have two fulltime and 8 parttime councillors. If you assume fulltime councillors work 40 hours a week and parttime 10, then you get 160 hours a week of representation.
After the switch we’ll have four full-time and four part-time councillors, giving us 200 hours of representation. That’s a 25% increase in representation, not a decrease.
Smaller municipalities typically have all part-time councillors. Larger municipalities have full-time councillors. Milton is in-between. As we crossed 100,000 people, it makes sense to switch from our previous model to the model Oakville uses. In this system each ward elects 1 part-time and 1 full-time councillor. It works very well for Oakville and is a good transition from part-time to full-time. Milton, after this switch, will have 4 full-time councillors, 4 part-time councillors and 1 full-time mayor. Size of ward in Milton is also similar to the size of ward in Oakville. This is how municipalities switch from part-time to full-time. It’s a decades long process. Municipalities should not switch overnight from one extreme to another. Oakville has been in that in-between state, Milton is now entering it as well.
I’ll leave this comparison between Oakville and Milton after this change in 2018, so people can see whether they are getting shortchanged in Milton or not.