Regina’s u-turn on public delegations

Analyzing the value of public presentations at council meetings

Aaron Moore, associate professor of political science at the University of Winnipeg. (Supplied photo)

On Nov. 24, the City of Regina announced it would ban oral presentations by public delegations at city council meetings. However, during a Dec. 8 council meeting, the City reversed course, deciding to maintain the status quo.

The overturned proposal aimed to make council meetings more efficient by limiting public delegations to executive committee meetings.

Aaron Moore, associate professor in the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Political Science, understands why some municipalities may wish to phase out presentations by public delegates, as he believes they are “an old way of doing things” that can “only have limited impact.”

Moore explains that by the time the public delegations are heard, “city council is usually not in a position to make significant changes,” as “most of the issues have been addressed.”

“My view (is that), increasingly, there’s a lot more discussion and opportunity for public input well before you get to this period where delegations are made, as delegations usually occur at the very end of the discussion,” Moore says.

In addition to public delegations, municipalities provide other venues for public input. These include open houses, community councils, roundtables and various ad hoc meetings. Moore notes that, unlike public delegations, these processes are largely informal.

Much of what comes before city council is simply there to be “rubber-stamped,” Moore says. However, he adds that “there are cases where council is not prepared to actually make a final decision yet, where there’s still a lot more discussion, and delegations can matter in that context.”

Molly McCracken, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) – Manitoba, appeared as a delegate to the Winnipeg city council on Nov. 25, speaking against a proposed private-public partnership for upgrades to the North End Sewage Treatment Plant.

McCracken emphasizes the value of public delegations for the CCPA, noting that the process allows them to “speak at particular moments that are important,” particularly around budget time and with regard to the city’s poverty-reduction strategy.

Although the CCPA also meets with councillors one-on-one, McCracken believes in the importance of speaking directly to “the decision-making body to hear their feedback, rebuttals, (and) thoughts to us.”

As an example of the value of presenting before council, McCracken points to the alternative municipal budget under development by the CCPA. McCracken says the CCPA will present their view of the City’s budget and offer alternative proposals regarding policy areas like climate action.

In turn, councillors will offer their perspective on the budget, explaining the action they believe they are taking. The feedback received from councillors to the CCPA’s proposals “will inform our work ... for the next year or for the upcoming municipal election in the fall of 2022,” McCracken says.

In addition to their utility to the CCPA, McCracken notes that presentations by public delegations allow statements to be put on the public record and points out that these statements are often covered by the media, meaning “more than just council hears the message of the delegations.”

In Winnipeg, members of the public can appear as a delegation before city council or a committee of council, such as the Executive Policy Committee.

Published in Volume 76, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 13, 2022)

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