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Tracking report conveys concern over council meetings held behind closed doors
Published Wednesday, August 9, 2017 4:08PM MDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 9, 2017 7:09PM MDT
A Manning Foundation report that examined the voting records of Calgary's City Council shows councillors are spending more time in secret meetings than previous administrations.
The report looked at councillor’s time management and voting patterns over the last four years and Manning officials say it is the largest collection of data on Calgary council ever collected
Council met 120 times between October 28, 2013 and July 24, 2017 and the report showed that almost 76 percent of that time was spent in public meetings.
Over 23 percent of the time was spent in camera, which is up from 19 percent in the previous term, and council met in camera at least 748 times over the four years for an average of just over 21 minutes.
“So we’ve seen quite an increase there in the time spent in camera, in secret, by the council so that’s obviously a worrying trend,” said Peter McCaffrey, Director of Research and author of the report. “Something for people to have a look at as to how the City of Calgary operates and to question why they’re spending quite so much time in secret and why they’re not able to do more of those discussions in public and I know that’s been a recurring theme that many people have talked about.”
The report compared those in camera sessions to other cities and found that between 2014 and 2016:
- Hamilton council met 13 times
- Toronto council met 18 times
- Ottawa council met one time
“The biggest concern, rather than the biggest take away, would be the times spent in camera. Again, partially that’s a function of the way that the council operates but going into camera 748 times while Toronto did 18 and Ottawa did one, suggests not necessarily that something is wrong but that the way that council functions is very different than other councils and that might be something that people need to take a look at and decide whether that’s appropriate or not,” said McCaffrey.
“The increase is a concern and I have been voting against going in camera recently because of the amount of times we’re going and speaking about things confidentially,” said Druh Farrell. “I would really take that research with a grain of salt. In Ontario, for example, they make a lot of their decisions with committees. Very few of their decisions are actually made in the council chambers and they have over 40 councillors in Toronto and so you have to look at those comparisons. I think it’s more realistic to look at Edmonton as a comparison.”
Overall attendance was pretty good, with councillors attending 96.8 percent of meetings.
Druh Farrell and Andre Chabot were at every meeting and Brian Pincott had the lowest attendance record at 91.7 percent. The average number of meetings missed was 3.9.
Over 10,000 motions were considered by council and only 2.8 percent of those were not passed.
The report says council spends about five minutes debating each motion and that data combined with the number of motions carried shows many topics are not controversial and that many councillors vote together.
“There’s a reasonably clear coalition of five on one side and five on the other,” said McCaffrey.
Jim Stevenson was the councillor who said 'no' most often, about 36 percent of the time, and Evan Woolley was at the other end of the spectrum, voting 'no' just 8.12 percent of the time.
To view the complete report from the Manning Foundation, click HERE or scroll the document below.