Committee of the Whole 101

Much ado has been made lately in the press about Council’s Committee of the Whole (CoW).  Opinion within Council is divided — some love it, some hate it — but most of the public don’t even understand it.  Here’s the low-down:

Any council or board normally has some kind of committee structure.  The purpose of a committee is to review and debate items before they come to Council.   Then, the committee makes a recommendation to send to Council for a final vote.

Having a committee review, debate and make a recommendation before going to Council is a good idea. Stakeholders and citizens can come and share their input before Council makes a decision.  Like anything, the background work done well at committee makes it easier down the road.

Guelph used to have a Standing Committee structure.  There were five (5) committees, as follows:

  • Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise (such as roads,sidewalks, water, business Development and downtown renewal)
  • Public Services (such as tourism, recreation, emergency services, transit, etc.)
  • Corporate Services (such as human resources, finance, legal,  city-owned real estate)
  • Audit (make sure money is being spent as planned)
  • Governance (strategic planning, accountability, transparency, CAO review)

In the old standing committee structure, four councillors (and the mayor) sat on each committee.  Meetings were scheduled at standardized times and, typically once per month.  At the end of the month, all of the committee recommendations are presented to Council and ratified.

In the Committee of the Whole structure, all of these committees meet on the same day, one after the other, and all 12 councillors (and the mayor) are members of all the committees.

On the surface, it appears simple.   Proponents say it is more efficient because there is only one meeting, instead of five meetings.  Technically, this is true.  However, so far, CoW meetings have been longer than all five previous standing committee meetings put together.   This is because all 13 members of Council are present, which tends to mean more questions of staff and longer debate.

A CoW governance structure can often work well for small boards or councils.  Larger councils get bogged down in discussion and debate, and this is why larger councils tend to do most of their work using a standing committee structure.

When the CoW structure was first proposed for Guelph, I did not support this new model.  I have been consistent in my opposition, up to and including the Council meeting on May 23, 2017, where I voted against continuing with the pilot project.  Council voted to continue to evaluate the CoW process for another six months, so this is the plan moving forward.  I do not think it is a good move for Guelph, for the following reasons:

  • longer committee meetings
  • repetitive discussion
  • false sense that committee recommendation will pass at council
  • not as accessible for constituents to attend daytime committee meetings
  • councillors can’t focus on one area, must attend all meetings

It remains to be seen whether the CoW will continue beyond the spring of 2018.  As we move forward, if the CoW structure is to remain, we need to see evidence that our citizens understand and feel included in the decision-making of the city at the committee level.  As always, I welcome your thoughts…

LP

National Planning Conference: Learning how to build a great city

Last week, I had the privilege to attend the 2017 National Planning Conference (NPC).   Each year, city councillors are allocated budget funds for professional development which can be used to attend courses, conferences and/or other learning activities related to our role as members of Council.  Each year, I try to choose something different, based on the needs and challenges facing our city.  Over the past few years, as we grow ever upward and outward, I took the opportunity to learn more about how cities like Guelph are doing things differently from a planner’s perspective.

During the second day, I was sitting with a small group of planners and was asked “why is a city councillor at a planning conference?”   My response, “we are your partners in city building. We need to speak the same language.”  In other words, when our city planners bring us ideas and recommendations, it is essential that we, as decision-makers, understand their vision and the lens through which they see our city.   We have more in common than we realize.

Cities across North America are facing similar challenges:

  • how do we build resiliency in the face of climate change?
  • how do we rebuild our aging infrastructure for sustainable and alternative energy?
  • how do we encourage active transportation and improve transit ridership?
  • what are the current best practices in developing and redeveloping public space?
  • what types of public space best contribute to social interaction?
  • how does public space generate and contribute to economic prosperity?
  • how do we provide affordable housing when we gentrify our downtowns?

The NPC provided some great innovative ideas and inspiration.  Over the next few days, I will reflect on what I’ve learned and share it here, with a bit of added Guelph context.

The Value of Public Space

When planners look at a new development, the need for quality public space is always top of mind.   The social interactions and economic benefit of high-quality public spaces (streets, parks, trails, squares, boulevards, libraries, recreational facilities, etc.) are, in many ways, more important that the private portion of the development.  Public space is the glue that holds it all together.

Humans like to gather in public places.  If we provide the basic essentials, the people will do the rest.  What are the essentials?

  • places to sit (ie. benches)
  • places to eat (ie. food cart)
  • places to reflect (ie. greenspace)
  • places to work (ie. wifi)
  • places to look (ie. public art)

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Bryant Park (NYC) is a great example of all five components working in tandem.  It’s also one of the most highly-used public spaces in New York City.   Once a neglected urban space plagued by drug deals and other criminal activity, Bryant Park is now a hum of activity for all ages and an economic driver for businesses located on its perimeter.   It is located adjacent to the New York Library, so outdoor reading areas and free lending libraries have been added to promote literacy. Games (bocce, ping pong, chess to name a few) keep visitors engaged for hours.   Loose park furniture (yes, even in a big city) allows for visitors to shift with the sun and find shade under a tree, alone or in large groups that can congregate and talk about local politics.

In Guelph, our next significant public (and private) space development will happen along the river lands on the site of The Metalworks.  The opportunity to link our rivers and trails is something that our planners (and councillors) were really excited about when we saw early plans for the massive redevelopment of the 5 Arthur Street site.  The city will play a role in planning for a bridge linkage over the Speed River, and connecting the future “river walk” with our existing trail infrastructure.   At NPC, we heard about successful projects where riverfront lands were reclaimed and restored for public space.

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Planning a great city — and great public space — must always engage the community. Build in layers.  Keep intact what our citizens currently value in our public spaces, and build upon that.  Add amenities here and there. Test ideas and innovations.  Adapt and evolve.  Watch how people interact.  And then adapt and evolve again.

LCP

 

 

2nd Annual Spring Festival at the Food Forest

2nd Annual Spring Festival at the Food Forest

2nd Annual Spring Festival at the Food Forest
University Village Park – 91 Ironwood Rd
Sunday May, 21st
9am to Noon

The Guelph Community Food Forest and Hanlon Creek Neighbourhood Group are excited to host the 2nd Annual Spring Festival. Help with the garden, lots of mulch to spread, crafts and activities (make a kite, plant some seeds, make a bird feeder), yummy refreshments, more park Clean-Up. Bubble Soccer hosted by the Rotary Club of Fergus-Elora – $5 for kid (up to 14), $10 for adults. Family fun for all ages, a great community event and time enjoying the outdoors!

Online Voting Decision Tonight

voter_fraud_1050x700Tonight (Monday, April 24) City Council will make its decision to offer — or not offer — online voting as an option in the next municipal election in the fall of 2018.  On April 5th, at Committee of the Whole, I moved a motion to remove online voting as an option, which passed in a 7-5 vote.  Since that day, members of council have received hundreds of letters and emails on both sides of the issue.  This issue is obviously important to our community and the debate is a healthy one.  It has given proponents of online voting an opportunity to make their case, to present compelling evidence in favour of internet voting, and to refute the research highlighting serious concerns about the list of electors and software security.

Over the course of the last two weeks, I have been prepared to have my mind changed.  I was open to hearing about major improvements to the voter’s list.  I waited to hear expert testimony and research demonstrating the security of voting software.  I listened to arguments about accessibility for seniors and our disabled citizens, both for and against.  I was hopeful that internet security experts could verify that the online election process could be audited in a meaningful way to detect a fraudulent vote or software hacking.

After listening and weighing all of the community input,  I believe, now more than ever, that Guelph should not use online voting for its municipal election in 2018. 

I want to thank the many citizens who took the time to express their views on this important issue.  There were many compelling letters, for and against, on this important issue.  I read each one and considered the input carefully.  The case for convenience and accessibility for voters with disabilities has merit.  These concerns were also addressed by writers who proposed that accessibility needs could be met in alternative ways.   Of all the submissions, three in particular stand out that cannot be ignored.

Submission of Richard Akerman

Submission of Cameron Shelley

Letters from Susan Watson

Given overwhelming evidence about the risks to our local democracy if we move forward with internet voting, it would be irresponsible of me to support its use.  I anticipated that the supplementary report released by the Clerk in advance of tonight’s meeting might have addressed some of the research and concerns submitted by the public, but no new arguments have been presented that would convince me that interest voting is reliable enough to entrust the outcome of the next election.

My obligation as your elected representation is to make decisions in the best interests of our residents.  Supporting an electoral process that is open to fraud and manipulation would be an abdication of my duty to protect the integrity of our local elections.

It is my hope that my fellow councillors will agree during the debate tonight that the concerns raised by letter-writers and delegations are serious enough to warrant a pause in online voting, and that Council will pass a unanimous vote to suspend internet voting in 2018.

LP

 

Online Voting – Another perspective

Online Voting – Another perspective

Dare I weigh in to the healthy debate our community is having about online voting!?
Of course, I will. I am willing to offer up my thoughts on this matter understanding that until I actually need to push the yea/nay button I am open to hearing other points of view. I do think I offer a unique perspective as I have been a Returning Officer in charge of delivering the provincial election here in Guelph.

I support online voting during the Advance Poll period as was done in the 2014 election but do not support the expansion to include Election Day. At the Committee of the Whole meeting on April 10th, I did not support the motion to remove internet voting completely.

I have concerns regarding the integrity of the voters list that the City receives from the the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). I do not have complete confidence in MPAC’s voter registration process before the City takes control and this creates a vulnerability for fraud in the internet voting process. The City requires proof of ID for voter registration while MPAC requires no proof. Someone can register with MPAC and vote online without ever having to produce an ID of any kind. If you go to Elections Ontario’s website today, you can only register with valid ID. Elections Canada requires a driver’s license number. MPAC needs to have a similar requirement.

So why would I continue to support internet voting for the Advance Polls? There are many articles identifying the pros and cons, the successes and failures and lessons learned. What I do know is that internet voting has been used in Ontario municipalities since 2003 without any reported security or voter fraud issues. In the 2014 election 97 municipalities used internet voting. In Guelph 33% of people who voted used the internet. While I understand the jury is still out as to whether online voting increases voter turnout, Guelph’s voter turnout increased 10% from the 2010 election. We don’t know why. I believe the benefits of accessibility do outweigh any potential problems if limited to Advance Polls. Any voting system, including paper ballots, relies on the integrity of our electorate and those delivering election services.

The problems of the MPAC list extend to the paper ballot system as well. A person can register online with MPAC without ID and show up at a polling place and still not have to show ID to vote. As long as someone has a voter’s card, they only need to sign a declaration that states they are the person who is named on the card. Also, no proof of Canadian citizenship is ever requested in the voting process. The ID requirements are outlined in the Municipal Elections Act. The paper ballot system has its own unique set of problems.

Polling stations are mandated to be accessible for persons with disabilities and procedures are put in place to assist in the voting process. Election polls are set up in retirement homes and long term care facilities. Municipal elections do not require home or hospital visits as do their provincial or federal counterparts. The Ontario Human Rights Commission states that the “electoral principle of accessibility recognizes persons with disabilities should be able to vote without assistance.” Here is their supportive statement for internet voting in Toronto – http://ohrc.on.ca/ur/node/11576 Voting without assistance is important as it maintains dignity, independence and confidentiality. I would also point out that not all disabilities are ‘physical’.

Another reason I support internet voting during the advance polls is that candidates have an opportunity to see the list of anyone who has already voted in the Advance Polls. We receive this list before Election Day. I think large scale irregularities would be evident.

I acknowledge that many are concerned about security. I have asked our City Clerk to provide information regarding security measures used by the city for internet voting and have been told that there will be a supplementary information report for the April 24th Council meeting which will provide more in depth information about security and other issues raised by the public and Council. This report will be made available to the public.

Here is a link to the 2013 Council report which provided an analysis of alternative voting methods: http://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/StaffReport_GuelphMethodsOfVoting.pdf

Happy to hear respectful input!

Cathy

Online Voting is a Complex Question

Online Voting is a Complex Question

Recently, Council as Committee of the Whole voted (7-5) against the use of online voting during the 2018 municipal election.  As one of the councillors who voted to pause online voting for 2018, let me assure you that this issue is not black and white.

I try to do my homework before I make a decision — on any issue — and I can see both sides of the argument on this one.  The subject of internet voting is complex, and there are conflicting opinions across the country.  My challenge is to balance all of the input, test the known facts, and make the best possible decision in light of conflicting opinion.

Online voting is something I strongly support – in principle.   In fact, I voted in favour of implementing online voting for the 2014 election.   The 2014 experience led me to the conclusion that we have some very serious data and technology integrity issues that MUST be addressed before we use online voting again, in 2018 or beyond.

Specifically, the voter database supplied to the municipality by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC).  Until they clean up their data, and their online registration process with more secure ways of verifying voter identity, we need to pause.  In addition, there must be an audit process available to test the integrity of the voting software during the real-time election period (before, during and after), as well as an identity test to verify an online elector is the person registered.

Confidence in the security of the democratic election process is more important than convenience.

I know all the arguments in favour of online voting – convenience, increased turnout, accessibility.   Many of these assertions are not evidence-based.   Below is an excellent recent article from Municipal World, a Canadian-based publication for municipal officials:

Municipal World article on Internet Voting, June 2016

There are clear requirements in the Elections Act that municipalities must make elections accessible to seniors and electors with disabilities, including setting up polling stations in institutional settings, nursing homes, and even going so far as empowering election officials to attend an elector in their private residence room.

Does voter fraud occur?  I don’t know.  That’s the problem.  There is no way to know, no audit trail, no traceable evidence.  But I do know that internet fraud is real and voter suppression tactics have taken place in the last two Canadian elections.

I use online banking, pay bills, online shopping, and many other services online.  I use them knowing they are generally safe, but also know that hacking and fraud occur regularly enough that my banks have anti-fraud departments, and that they will return my money if I am hacked.  It’s part of their cost of doing business.  Unfortunately, an audit to test the integrity of an online election is impossible.  If a vote is altered between the home computer (or mobile) and the Clerks office, there is no way to trace it because we can’t go back to the elector and ask them to confirm for whom they voted.  And we have no way of knowing that the voter behind the IP address is the elector to whom a voter card was issued.

One solution that I think would work well is now in place in Quebec — everyone is issued a Voter Registration ID # and is documented on a List of Electors for all three levels of government.  It is a unique ID similar to your SIN or CRA registration login.  The Voter ID number can travel with you if you move, and is deactivated when you die.  Municipalities get their voter registration data from the same central List of Electors.  I hope Ontario adopts a similar model.

I am hopeful we can return to online voting in the future.  Unfortunately, the new Elections Act requires us to make the decision for the 2018 election by May 1, 2017.  I’m not ready to support online voting until the integrity of the voter registration process and software products can withstand a higher level of scrutiny.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts…

LP

Peeling Back the Petrie: Iconic Downtown Landmark is Coming Back to Life

When Tyrcathlen Partners developer Kirk Roberts bought the landmark downtown Petrie Building in 2015, he knew very well that a heritage restoration would bring a unique set of challenges.  It’s not his first rodeo (The Boarding House Arts and the Granary Building) and he clearly sees both personal, cultural and financial benefit in the restoration of unique heritage structures.   Roberts sees potential where others see dust and mud.  According to Roberts, “risk is part of the equation” in downtown, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges.  But for each challenge (such as easements, building codes, importing specialty products from France), there are also moments of discovery and accomplishment. For example, discovering the original 1909 signature of the wallpaper hanger on the wall of the third floor, or finding the opening of the original domed entrance to the main floor.

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Kirk Roberts of Tyrcathlen Partners explains how the patina of the original stamped galvanized metal facade elements will be enhanced using six layers of a traditional linseed oil-based treatment called Le Tonkinois.

The Petrie Building is singularly unique.  It was built in 1882 by Alexander Bain Petrie, a pharmacist and inventor.  The designation of the building under the Ontario Heritage Act speaks to its rare and rich history:  the galvanized iron facade, the Petrie family, the ceiling heights, the Masonic “secret” rooms, and more.

Read about the history of the Petrie Building and its unique features here.

As the Petrie Building transformation get ready to be revealed in the coming months, Roberts was eager to show off the incredible architectural treasures found inside, and to promote how this building plays a key role in the identity of downtown Guelph.  He recently hosted a tour for members of Council and economic development and tourism staff as part of the lead up to Doors Open on Founders Weekend April 21 to 23, 2017.

During the tour, the brothers of Brothers Brewing Co. were busy building fixtures and furnishings using architectural salvage from the building.  Several years ago, while looking across the street at the derelict Petrie facade from a table at Van Gogh’s, they began to dream about opening a business in the very space they now occupy.  They refer to downtown Guelph as “our land of opportunity.”  Today, the brewing vats are installed and the bar — including a foot rail made from the old gas pipes — is almost ready for patrons to enjoy a pint.

Enjoy the tour …

Brothers Brewing

Brothers Asa and Colton Proveau, along with business partner Michael Bevan, call Guelph their “land of opportunity” and can’t wait to open their new brewing facility in downtown Guelph.

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Original tin ceiling panels have been incorporated into the design of the handmade furnishings, including the bar (below) and brew keg taps.

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Original gas pipes have been repurposed as the foot rail of the new bar at Brothers Ale House.

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Brothers Ale House is taking shape and is set to open in May 2017.

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Brothers Brewing equipment is installed and ready to go.

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Elements of the original third floor were rediscovered as each layer was removed during restoration.  Wallpaper revealed the signature of the paperhanger in 1909.

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On the third floor, door openings are original and wallpaper is still intact.

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Twenty (20) foot ceilings make full use of the impressive windows at the front of the building.

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Original crown and cove moldings are being restored.

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The doorway entrance to the former Masonic Lodge meeting space is being opened up and restored using restoration arts specialists.

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The large window opening at the back of the building reveals remnants of the original Western Hotel (on Macdonell) from the 1840s, which is still connected to the newer Petrie Building, built in 1882.