Council, province disagree about Bill 20 procedure

Daniel MacEachern
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St. John’s city council says the pro­vincial government should have consulted the city about proposed changes to municipal legislation — but the government says it did.

At Monday’s regular city council meeting, at-large Coun. Tom Hann said no one at city hall knew anything about the provincial government’s Bill 20 until last Friday.

The bill proposes minor changes to the City of Corner Brook Act, the City of Mount Pearl Act, the City of St. John’s Act and the Municipality Act.

“Staff have not had a chance to react to it or have a chat about it or anything else,” said Hann. “We weren’t asked our opinion.”

Hann said the proposed amendments are minor.

“But if you’re interested in the City (of St. John’s) Act and the legislation, then you have to question why we weren’t consulted,” said Hann, who made a motion for city staff to contact Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Steve Kent to find out what happened. “You just can’t send a document to the capital city and say, ‘By the way, we’re going to discuss this in the House next week,’ and then it might receive five minutes and get passed without any comment from the city or from city staff.”

Mayor Dennis O’Keefe said

St. John’s needs a “city act which will take us from the current 19th century, in which our city act was created, into the 21st century.”

There’s one small problem, though: Kent says the city was consulted, and he’s got emails to prove it.

“I’m quite surprised to hear members of St. John’s council saying that they weren’t consulted. In fact, with respect to the changes we’re making to the City of St. John’s Act, the City of St. John’s was absolutely consulted in early 2013,” said Kent.

There was a meeting in the minister for intergovernmental affairs’ office with O’Keefe and city manager Bob Smart, and intergovernmental affairs officials Jan. 30, said Kent, and a subsequent email conversation about the amendments the provincial government is bringing forward.

Kent is new to the intergovernmental affairs portfolio, and says he hadn’t discussed the amendments with city council or staff, but he’s not worried about city council appearing to be unaware Monday night of the consultation.

“We communicate quite regularly with the City of St. John’s. I have a great relationship with the city council,” he said. “I had an excellent discussion with Mayor O’Keefe just yesterday about reviving the effort to build a new plan for the Northeast Avalon region, so we have open lines of communication, and I look forward to continuing to work with the capital city.”

As for the amendments, council and Kent both say they’re minor.

“There are two things about Bill 20 that I’m really excited about. First is that we’re allowing councils across Newfoundland and Labrador to appoint youth representatives,” he said. “We’re not being proscriptive around how towns and cities go about this, but we’re creating the ability for more young people to be engaged in local government in our province, and I think that’s an incredibly positive thing that’s overdue.”

The proposed amendments would also allow councillors to participate in meetings electronically.

“Recognizing that in most of our communities in Newfoundland and Labrador there are councillors and volunteers — there are often cases where people have to travel for work or they may have child-care issues or they may have health issues. There’s a whole number of reasons why a member may not be able to attend a meeting in person. This gives council the ability to allow a member to participate electronically.”

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Mount Pearl, Newfoundland and Labrador Avalon

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