Limiting opposition councillors to 5 minutes debate makes Vancouver Council look so Mickey Mouse
I recently had the chance to watch a debate of City Council in which the issue of additional financial controls came up for discussion. What I witnessed by the chair of the committee was nothing short of an exercise in anti-democratic behaviour.
The lone opposition Councillor Suzanne Anton was attempting to speak on a simple point of order, a privilege normally afforded to all elected officials in Vancouver. Rather than provide a few minutes for Anton to finish her thoughts, Raymond Louie, the Chair of the City Services and Budgets Committee arbitrarily shut Anton down, repeatedly cut off her microphone mid-sentence and proceeded to ram through a vote. Anton was literally left speechless by the behaviour.
Unfortunately, this type of arrogance and heavy-hand from a government with a 10-1 majority has become all too common place in Vancouver these days.
Louie's actions reminded me of when MLA Jenny Kwan and Joy Macphail were the two sole survivors from the NDP's disastrous 2001 election campaign. They were the lone voice of opposition against a sea of 77 BC Liberal MLAs.
At the time, critics of the government howled that Joy and Jenny needed to be recognized as the official opposition. They demanded the right to have their voices heard. Their concerns were legitimate, and were ultimately acted upon.
However, now that the tables have turned and the left-wing have garnered a massive majority on Vancouver Council, they seem to have lost their penchant for basic democratic principles.
One need only go back to the debate last fall when staff recommended changes to Council's procedures by-law to limit the number of times a member could speak regarding any given issue. I suspect the changes were precipitated by staff who were simply fed up with having to sit through endless council meetings often dominated by a couple of very verbose councillors.
The following is an audio clip of then opposition Councillor Raymond Louie speaking about why limiting members to 5 minutes debate was a bad idea (clip):
I am generally satisfied with the report. All with the exception of one component which is section 5.7.
5.7 is the passage that is in my mind is the most egregious because it limits member of council, whether you are in opposition, or in majority from having the fullest possible debate and having the issue explored as fully as it could be and using a procedure written into the procedure bylaw to limit the debate.
It didn't stop there, Louie went on to make this statement:
I don't believe it is appropriate that we should be setting in place an absolute limit on the number of times that a member can speak to the issue.
Then there was Councillor David Democracy who pontificated, huffed and puffed about his concern over basic democratic rights. He was outraged that councillors could be stifled and limited to only five minutes of debate (clip):
We're not like Toronto. We don't have 44 councillors, we have ten. We don't need to have these kind of draconian limitations.
He goes on to fulminate:
You only got 5 minutes, one intervention. Full stop. I think that really is going to hobble this Council's ability to inform itself on the staff reports...then hobble the ability to deal with debate that comes up. I think that is fundamentally not in the democratic interest of the people who elect us and want us to represent them here.
Louie and Cadman's passionate defense of allowing full debate persuaded some of the NPA Councillors to agree with them that the procedure by-law should remain unchanged and that free speech in the Chamber should not be restricted. That portion of the procedures by-law was defeated.
Now juxtapose the debate from last fall to the current actions of this new city government and you can understand full well why some people are beginning to say this Vision crew is appearing just a tad arrogant.