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Council may change: Dive into the precedent

A staff recommendation comes to Council on Tuesday.



File photo.


City staff are bringing forward a recommendation to committee of the whole on Tuesday that Council approve a review of how the municipal government is structured, including wards, salaries and the number of councillors that will sit around the horseshoe.

One of the items up for consideration will be the discussion around a transition to full-time councillors sitting in the chambers. The only cities in the province with such salaries are Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton, the smallest of which has four times the population of Guelph.

It’s a complicated discussion that balances concerns for accessible democracy with the amount of time put into the job by councillors, among numerous other factors that most other city councils across the country have examined at one point or another.

Currently, Guelph’s Council has 12 part-time city councillors elected from six wards. The first two to cross the finish line with the most individual votes in each ward makes it to Council. The candidate with the most votes in the race is elected mayor and acts as the chair of Council.

Councillors make $40,000 per year — an increase that was approved during the last term of Council and came into play on Dec. 1 as the current term came into office.

Coun. James Gordon noted on Sunday morning that last year councillors lost a tax-free component of their salary due to the provincial government. He explained that the rate increase of about $4,500 was to “accommodate this”.

“Some of us felt that this actually was a slight drop in our compensation.”

However, this could all change for when voters head to the polls in 2022, dependent on if a review moves forward and what recommendations from the review Council decide to agree on.

The history

When the Town of Guelph was officially constituted in 1851, municipal governance consisted of four at-large councillors and one Reeve — a chair similar time a modern mayor.

The first system fro Guelph where councillors represented areas came into play in 1856 with the creation of the North, East, South and West wards.

There were three councillors per ward and one mayor until 1879. That year, the small town started by John Galt crossed the population threshold of 10,000 and became a city.

Promptly after achieving city status, Guelph divided into six wards — St. Patrick, St. George, St. John, St. David, St. Andrew and St. James — with three councillors per ward, meaning there were 18 in total.

This set up continued into the 1900s. As the city grew physically and the role of Council evolved into a body that made more planning decisions, the format of the horseshoe changed to its modern form.

How would a vote go down?

This will be a length process that will include staff recommendations, community input and likely intense debate around the horseshoe, and there are also two new councillors that are present.

There is no way to know for sure what way a vote will go because it is not even known what Council will exactly be voting on. However, there are some known quantities when it comes to the debate between full- and part-time sitting councillors.

Coun. Mark MacKinnon infamously called for a full-time Council after a lengthy 10-hour-long meeting in May of 2018 and vowed to bring back a motion for staff to carry out a $190,000 review to determine what kind of Council would serve Guelph best. That motion failed in 2016.

There are those that are not in favour of a full-time Council. Coun. Leanne Piper four years ago said she was against full-time councillors in a post on her Ward 5 website, citing five distinct reasons: Diversity, democracy, function, efficiency and cost.

However, these opinions may have changed over time and The Post has reached out to all 12 councillors and the mayor for comment regarding ward-sizes, compensation and what, if any, alterations to municipal governance should take place.

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