Moving forward with the GPC – addressing the root problem instead of creating workarounds

At the Special Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting this past Monday, Staff introduced a draft Terms of Reference (TOR) for the establishment of the Governance and Priorities Committee (GPC) that was previously directed by Council – which was:

“That Staff develop a Terms of Reference for a Governance and Priorities Committee by March 1, 2019, with the following considerations:

  1. The Committee will include all members of Council;
  2. The Committee is intended to be an open forum for more robust discussion and debate on select priority topics, with recommendations provided to Council for consideration; and,
  3. The Committee is intended to be a forum where guests and subject matter experts can be invited to participate in discussion.”

I think that the original motion is excellent and I very much support it – however – in regards to having this new committee replace the COW altogether which was expressed afterwards – I do not support that. I’ll explain why, and also provide two other options to consider towards moving forward.

Upon reading the GPC TOR and hearing the issues and impacts brought forward by Staff along towards the lengthy discussion that occurred at the Special Committee of the Whole meeting last Monday between Council and Staff, it quickly became clear that there are significant negative impacts if the COW is to be replaced by the GPC. The Terms of Reference that Staff has developed are well thought out and would serve the committee well on its own – but not if the GPC is going to replace the COW. I would encourage you to review the meeting linked above if you want to have full detail on the impacts and discussion that took place around this subject.

In considering the significant impacts along with all the thoughts and opinions expressed by our Council and Staff around this, I found myself contemplating “why has this part become so difficult, for something with such good intent” and “why are potential workarounds being discussed rather than simply addressing the root problem”?

The essence of the root problem, as I see it, is that by continuing down a path of replacing the COW with the GPC, it will introduce unnecessary complications and negative impacts due to two core factors which are at odds with each other, which are:

  1. The COW is designed for a multitude of topics
  2. The GPC is designed for select priority topics

In other words, quite simply put – the GPC under its Terms of Reference, is not a good replacement for the COW (in my opinion). The GPC is best suited for items that require a more involved and extended focus such as (for example) the ones in this draft list of workshops. It’s crucial to recognize why this is, because the resulting impacts and implications are huge.

What the COW encompasses

The COW serves as a means for council to conduct more “informal” discussions around a multitude of topics (rather than just “select priority topics”) prior to formally adopting any resolutions – and there are some advantages to that because of its three-stage process that is designed into it:

  • The first stage is in having wholesome discussion as a group of committee members working towards providing recommendations for council as a legislative body
  • The second stage is in relation to the time that exists between the committee meeting and the council meeting where the recommendations will be brought forward. It’s an important stage because it provides some breathing time for committee members to individually reflect and potentially reconsider, research, or seek other input prior to the recommendations arriving at the council meeting
  • The third stage is at the council meeting where further discussion and debate occurs around the recommendations made by the committee, and ultimately, is where approval and adoption of the recommendations take place and are subsequently acted upon.

But that’s not all. Just as importantly, the COW serves as a mechanism for delegations to bring forward their own topics to the committee which are relevant to the city, and as well, the COW serves as a means for delegations to speak upon the subjects that are already on the agenda.

Finally, the COW delivers the ability for an informal question and answer period where questions can be asked by the public regarding anything on the agenda.

These are all very important aspects, and that importance needs to be recognized and treated as such.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is, in essence – that to keep things moving smoothly, efficiently and effectively, the GPC as currently defined in the TOR quite simply does not – and cannot – accommodate all of the important aspects that exist in the COW, without impacting things negatively in other ways.

To provide just one example of that – since the GPC isn’t intended to address a multitude of general topics, general topics for consideration that are intended to reach Council members directly as a collective (whether they are being brought forward by delegations or by Staff) would instead have to take place directly in council meetings in order to reach them collectively. But if you do that, then the advantages of having these general topics go through the three-stage process outlined above are now gone, and the stage is set for “on the fly” decision making.

So in the end, it turns out this problem is actually pretty easily overcome, but it requires that Council be willing to step back a bit and address the root problem instead of trying to design a workaround for it.

With that in mind, here are two ways forward to consider – both of which address the root problem in different ways:

Option 1 – Simply utilize the GPC for subjects of governance and priorities instead of “Special Committee of the Whole” meetings

This option addresses the root problem and continues the work towards creating a new-and-improved committee for Council to utilize towards subjects of governance and priorities, and it does not need to affect the COW in any way. The GPC does not need to replace the COW. Once the GPC is in place and being utilized as intended, Council will then be able to discover and overcome any challenges or kinks discovered during its usage, and potentially enhance it even further. This is exciting as it could also lead towards definition of a framework that in the future could be utilized as a base structure for all committees, including the COW. Now wouldn’t that be progress! Yes, it definitely would be. Here’s how the work on the GPC can continue forward:

That Council direct Staff to:

  1. Abandon efforts towards the expressed intent of “dissolving the Committee of the Whole and replacing it with the Governance and Priorities Committee”; and instead,
  2. Continue forward on work towards establishing a new Governance and Priorities Committee (GPC) utilizing the adopted Terms of Reference; and,
  3. Draft options and recommendations for consideration towards policy implementation which defines how the GPC is to be bound and operated under its Terms of Reference. The options and recommendations provided must include the following:
    1. A variety of methods to consider towards the process of inviting guests and others with subject matter expertise to directly participate in discussions
    2. The ability for delegations to present on subjects that are on GPC agendas
    3. An informal question and answer period for agenda items only that is to occur at the end of meetings
  4. Report back to the Committee of the Whole once the draft of options and recommendations for GPC policy are complete

Option 2 – Enhance the COW

This option is definitely not my personal preference because it means that the GPC would be abandoned, and I think having a GPC is a good idea. However, it does address the root problem in a different way which loosely correlates to “replacing the COW with the GPC”, in that it would enhance the COW itself by bringing in one of the main strengths of the GPC, which is in being able to directly involve others to participate in discussions. Here’s how this option could be directed:

That Council direct Staff to:

  1. Abandon the creation of a new Governance and Priorities Committee and its Terms of Reference; and,
  2. Provide options and recommendations towards altering the Committee of the Whole in ways that will deliver a process to invite guests and others with subject matter expertise to directly participate in discussions; and,
  3. Report back to the Committee of the Whole once the draft of options and recommendations are complete

Are there any other options that address the root problem?

So what do you think about all this – do you think Council should continue down the current path of replacing the COW with the GPC, or do you think there is a better way to move forward?

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