Regina city council strikes down bylaw change that prevents delegations from speaking at meetings
Regina city council is rethinking its bylaw change that would have prevented delegations from speaking at council meetings.
In November, council approved the 2022 meeting schedule, which would have only allowed residents to address councilors at executive committee meetings starting in January. Written submissions would still be allowed at council meetings.
During the second reading of the bylaw, council struck down the motion.
Before the vote, nine delegations spoke against the bylaw during Wednesday’s council meeting, asking councilors to reverse their decision.
“The pandemic has brought new challenges to all cities and their residents. I feel the least a municipal council should want to do, especially at this moment, is listen,” said Regina resident Nancy Black.
Kyle Vermette, a Metis lawyer and consultant in Regina, says council has “unintentionally created conditions that exclude Indigenous peoples’ unique way of sharing cultural and historical perspectives” by only allowing written submissions at city council.
Indigenous peoples have a long history of sharing oral stories and perspectives rather than written ones, according to Vermette.
“I argue that by excluding oral expression from city council meetings, it is both making it less likely that Indigenous peoples will engage with city council and even less likely that Indigenous people will engage effectively with city council,” Vermette said.
Councilors say the change was an effort to make city council meetings more efficient.
Regina resident Larry Kowalchuk says it’s more important for residents to speak at council when officials are voting on decisions rather than at executive committee meetings.
“[City council] is where we vote on motions that count that we want to be able to speak to you,” Kowalchuk told council.
“You’re not providing spaces and places for us to hold you accountable when you’re actually voting on a binding motion.”
The executive committee is made up of councilors and meets every other Wednesday at 9 a.m.
Councilor Bob Hawkins says councilors are capable of listening to delegations at executive committee and debating the issues the following week.
“It is an inherently democratic process,” Hawkins said.
“The ears listening at executive committee are the very ears that make the decisions at council the following week.”
Councilor Lori Bresciani put forward an amendment to the bylaw change, which would have given delegations the choice to speak at executive committee or city council, but not both.
“When we discussed this we were looking at ways to find efficiencies,” Bresciani said.
“It’s also our job to ensure all residents of Regina can come and speak.”
Council voted 8-3 against the amended bylaw.
City administration is now tasked with creating a new report that outlines options for delegations. The report will go to executive committee for approval and then come back to council along with an accompanied bylaw.
A timeline for the report is unclear.
For now, council says rules around delegations will stay “status quo.”
Residents wishing to speak at a council or committee meeting must submit a request to the city clerk’s office by 12 p.m. on the Monday prior to the scheduled meeting. A written brief in advance is required to present at a city council meeting, but not at a committee meeting.
SPEAKING AT EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
Councilor Cheryl Stadnichuk, who voted against Bresciani’s amendment, recommends people voice their opinions at executive committee, which is the start of the decision-making process.
“That’s the best time to give us your input rather than at the end of the process when it’s already a recommendation to council,” said Stadnichuk, adding the executive committee level plays an important role in council’s democratic decision-making process.
Mayor Sandra Masters says there is a lack of understanding in terms of the benefits to speaking at executive committee meetings.
Masters says executive committee offers more time for “open dialogue and debate” compared to council meetings.
The executive committee makes recommendations to council. Masters says it’s during executive meetings that councilors can reflect on information and research before voting on items at council.
“Hearing new information at council when you’re required to make an immediate decision then afterwards, unless you’re going to table it, isn’t necessarily conducive to that reflection, thought, and further research that is sometimes necessary,” Masters said.
Masters says council needs to do a better job at communicating the importance of the executive committee process to the public. She says council should be encouraging participation and inviting people to speak on agenda items at executive committee meetings.