City council to give first reading to kill question period tonight

Unbelievable!

Nothing less can be said about any political body at any level that purposely stifles any avenue of communication with those who put them in office.

It is inconceivable, even unconscionable that Portage la Prairie city council would consider eliminating Question Period from its regularly scheduled meetings. Yet that’s what Portage la Prairie will give first reading to tonight.

Why is the Portage la Prairie city council negatively concerned with allowing the electorate to ask questions of them?

The primary purpose of Question Period in Canada’s highest office is to seek information from the government and to call it to account for its actions. This is the purpose of Question Period in the House of Commons according to the House of Commons Compendium.

It is also the tradition of allowing others to question and ask for answers from the sitting government.

It is a flag that says we have free speech and Question Period is a cornerstone of a free society. It is also a sign a sitting government is not afraid to face its public. Whenever a government attempts to stifle free speech, the first casualty is the elimination of being able to ask questions. Maybe the city council cannot see the very direct line between free speech and Question Period.

When city teacher and political organizer James Kostuchuk threw the idea out if the council would consider eliminating question period from its meetings, I was gobsmacked. Kostuchuk is not a regular at council meetings and was there to make a presentation from the historical committee. When he does attend, he leaves following his presentation. This time Kostuchuk waited for Question Period and tasked council to consider the death knell for what he believes is an unnecessary process that caters to grandstanding. Given Kostuchuk’s political interests, if anything, why would he even consider posing an absurd request. This has been the topic of much debate. It has also been asked over and over if Kostuchuk was asked by council to raise the issue for them? Politics makes for very strange bedfellows indeed.

Council has previously voiced its distaste with Question Period. Sure Question Period has its shortcomings, mainly that politicians may hear questions in a public forum where they don’t want to, but I have not seen any grandstanding.

Question Period plays a vital role in holding the government to account and is important to democracy and accountability.

Here is what the city has on its agenda for tonight’s meeting regarding Question Period:

It says The Municipal Act provides that a council must review their organizational by-law and their procedure by-law at least once during its term of office. The City of Portage la Prairie has one combined by-law with respect to organization and procedures.

One notable revision to the by-law is the removal of Clause 4.9 – Community Question Period. The history of Question Period was considered when making the decision to remove it:

In February of 2015 council amended the by-law to include a Community Question Period at the end of each council meeting, to allow for questions pertaining to council meeting agendas.

In March of 2016, council amended the by-law again to open up Question Period to topics that were not on council meeting agendas.

It has been determined that Question Period has not been effective, for the following reasons:

With no warning as to what questions will be asked, council and administration are often not prepared with the data required to provide answers. Such questions are answered by way of follow-up phone call; many questions that are asked have often been answered already, either by phone, email or at previous council meetings; questions received are often not questions, but rather comments or complaints;

The delegation process is available for the public to register ahead of time and present to council for up to five minutes and that all members of council and administration are accessible to answer questions by way of phone or email, and their contact information is available on the city’s website.

City council has bigger fish to fry. I have said it on many occasions, but this is the first time specifically to this council. There is a problem with transparency in your decision making. Work on that instead of trying to undermine your trust with the public.

Many feel the request to eliminate question period was a plant by council and certainly the Municipal Act Review to kill Question Period is new information. But there it is, up for first reading and will be rushed through second and third reading at the next council meeting.

When was this discussed at council or committee? How did it come to this advanced state without councillors meeting to debate — hopefully, some still disagree — publicly? The answer is the council did not meet to discuss the probability of eliminating Question Period in any type of public forum.

It’s much the same information path council used to deliver information on the causeway. Everything was delivered to the public at its final stage. All debate was private to six councillors, the mayor and administration. In the end, the vote was again unanimous.

The last meeting including, council, committee and question period convened at 6 p.m. and closed at 6:30 p.m. This included accepting the $7 million causeway project.

30 minutes! That’s it!

 

Mickey Dumont

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