Expense claims, ward boundaries, war on drugs make headlines in Canadian cities this week

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Heavily armed Mexican military wage a war against drug cartels in poverty stricken villages

In the week that was, some city hall watchdogs are asking for Winnipeg to follow Toronto's lead by placing all receipts and expenses online. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation filed freedom of information requests outlining a number of interesting expenses by public officials.

It was uncovered that two Councillors got reimbursed the cost for attending events with the Rossmere NDP and the Manitoba Liberal Party. There were also expense claims for $150 for the S.N.S.S. Golf Classic as well as $380 for the Irish Association of Manitoba Golf Tournament.

The CTF say that the public shouldn't be forced to FOI this information in order to get access to it. Rather, they point to Toronto as the model of how things should get done. Here is what CTF Manitoba director Colin Craig told the media:

Ultimately, council reports to the taxpayers of Winnipeg so all of its expenses should be proactively disclosed to the public. The City of Toronto scans every receipt expensed by council and places them online. The City of Winnipeg should do the same.

We're not expecting Winnipeg to act on the CTF's concerns any time soon.

Over in Calgary, they're having a battle over ward boundaries. Ward 10 to be precise. That's because the boundaries for Ward 10 were about to be wiped off the electoral map putting Alderman Andre Chabot in a very difficult situation.

If the veteran Alderman wanted to run again, his prospects didn't look good. He would either have to run against an incumbent, or run in a brand new ward which may be unaware of his credentials.

The S.E. Calgary News reports that Chabot went to work convincing Council this decision would be disastrous - and they have now agreed. The decision has stirred up a bit of a controversy.

Markham Hislop a writer with the News states:

Ald. Brian Pincott says Council has got itself into a mess over this issue.

He’s quite right, but not because Council decided to refer the matter to a Council committee, where boundaries can be hashed out in private, away from the glare of the public spotlight.

Local scribblers are quite incensed. The situation has been likened to a giant game of Monopoly and one political scientist even called it gerrymandering, though that seems a bit of a stretch.
The real culprit here is the process.

Why does the City of Calgary allow one person, returning officer Barb Clifford, to redraw ward boundaries?

The usual practice is to appoint an independent committee of respected citizens to study the matter and make recommendations to government. The process is apolitical or, at the very least, political representation on the committee is balanced.

Such committees hold public meetings where voters can be heard on the issue of redrawing the boundaries of the constituencies they live in. The process is open and, to a large degree, transparent.

The idea of tasking a City employee with drafting a report in her office and then launching it on Council is ridiculous.

There are no wards in Metro Vancouver cities, unlike most other major urban centres in Canada. Voters in BC elect their politicians through an at-large system.

Lastly, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts is making it very clear that not only does she support the current war on drugs, she thinks we need more in the arsenal to fight back.

Watts made a presentation to the federal justice committee last week asking that cities be granted more powers to crack down on the marijuana trade in BC, the province's biggest cash crop.  Watts wasn't the only Mayor making the plea for a crackdown, she was joined by Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender as well as RCMP Supt. Janice Armstrong, Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis and criminologist Dr. Darryl Plecas.

The Surrey Leader reports that Watts had a shopping list of demands from the committee:

  1. Disruption of funding sources – increase the sharing of information to ensure the Canadian Revenue Agency can pursue tax audits of individuals with marijuana and drug production income. Illegal revenue is taxable, and audits should be done on every grow operation identified, the team said. The presenters said marijuana cultivation in this province is a $6-billion industry. Last year in Surrey, 277 marijuana grow operations were identified, and if average size, they would produce a combined total of $97 million in revenue. That represents a tax loss of $28 million in federal taxes and $14 million in provincial taxes, and that’s just one city.
  2. Regulation of equipment – regulate or control the sale and purchase of hydroponics equipment, used in the majority of grow operations.
  3. Monitoring of legal grow operations more closely – licensed indoor medical grow operations share the same risks as illegal operations and operate with minimal scrutiny.
  4. Research – apply resources to researching new detection technology, to assessing regional programs and to monitoring the overall marijuana trade in order to develop approaches that work.
  5. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has the power to conduct investigations and recommend policy or legislative changes.

And that folks was the week that was in Canadian Cities. Tune back here next Sunday for our regular weekly installment.

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