Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday is calling for a city governance review that would examine ways to improve transparency and accountability, ensure effective public input and better define the role of elected officials.
Loveday said in an interview Wednesday that it’s important the review get underway in 2021, despite the ongoing pandemic, so that the work can be done prior to the next civic election in 2022.
“Just because we’re doing something in a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it,” he said.
Councillors will discuss the issue today and consider Loveday’s motion to schedule a pair of workshops — one for council and one for residents — to help set the priorities for any review.
If approved, staff would report back with a proposed plan and cost estimate for consideration by council as part of the 2021 budget.
Loveday said he promised during the 2018 election campaign to advocate for a governance review after hearing from residents about “long-standing and thorny issues.”
He noted, for example, that council has established a number of advisory committees, many of which have different structures and different ways of reporting to council.
“There have been issues where some committees have not received the support they need or deserve to respect the time and expertise that they’re offering the city,” he said, adding that a more uniform process might assist.
The length of council meetings is another area of concern. Prior to the pandemic, council was sometimes in meetings for up to 14 hours a day.
“I don’t think that lends itself to making good decisions,” he said. “I also don’t think we should be meeting after buses stop running for example, because that means that we’re less likely to have people come to the meetings, that makes it less accountable, and it limits the amount of public input that we’ll receive.”
Similarly, the question of councillors’ pay and whether serving on council should be a full-time or part-time job continues to stir controversy.
Loveday said he’s not proposing that a governance review would directly examine councillors’ remuneration.
“But what I’d like to see come out of this is a best practice for doing so,” he said. “I think that can take the politics out of the question and ensure that there are reviews on a reasonable frequency and, also, that it’s not just councillors having to pick a number out of the air and propose it.”
The issue flared last year when Coun. Ben Isitt floated the idea of tying councillors’ salaries to the median income of full-time city employees, except for police and firefighters. Such a change would have increased councillors’ remuneration from about $45,000 a year to more than $70,000.
Of more than 5,000 people who took part in the city’s online budget survey, 86 per cent said they “strongly disagreed” with the proposal.
Loveday said a governance review will examine how other jurisdictions handle the same issue and solicit advice from the public and policy experts.
“I’m not predicting any outcomes,” he said. “But essentially, [council remuneration] is one of the questions that has come up and been controversial over the last few years and I am hoping to solve a lot of those issues ahead of the 2022 election to help set the next council up for success.”