As a long-time activist and politician, I understand the challenges faced by the city as it attempts to refine its governance structure and decision-making process.
But in approving in principle The City We Want, The Government We Need, I fear council has set out in a dangerous direction.
The report suggests right off that the city's ability to focus on strategic city-wide priorities be strengthened and, to that end, that "transactional" decisions be delegated to staff, committees or other undefined bodies.
But delegating "transactional" decisions may undermine another important recommendation in the report: to "enhance civic engagement."
Let me illustrate. Back in 2004, council approved $500,000 for a skateboard facility in the west end.
At a public meeting, four possible sites were presented. One of them, Colonel Sam Smith Park, was strongly opposed, and valid environmental issues were raised. But that site was the one the ward councillor and parks staff indicated was their preferred choice.
They also made it clear that with budget approval already given, the decision about the location did not have to be approved by council.
I suggest that this kind of process is hardly conducive to "enhancing civic engagement." Neither is it consistent with the strong commitment council has made to environmental protection. The city's Official Plan states: "To be good stewards of the natural environment we must acknowledge that it has no boundaries."
But the decision by parks staff to locate $500,000 of concrete in a passive, naturalized park was in conflict with this policy and for citizens there was no avenue of appeal.
More importantly, there was no transparency in the decision-making process. The parks department commissioned a biologist to examine the Sam Smith facility, but local residents had to file a Freedom of Information request before even the terms of reference of that review were released.
Which leads me to another recommendation in the governance report: "to empower community councils."
The report is critical of the lack of a city-wide perspective in much of council's decision-making and says that strengthening community councils will change that. That is very unlikely to happen unless all members of council are prepared to address issues within one another's wards.
Here's why. Community councils typically represent a very large area and many different neighbourhoods. It is unreasonable to expect all councillors to know all about the entire area. Councillors are naturally going to follow the lead of the ward councillor on many issues.
But amalgamation has led to a near- prohibition on what is called "interference" in another councillor's ward. "Keep your nose out of my business, keep your nose out of my ward," is often explicitly stated.
As a result, decisions like the location of the skateboard facility are made by one councillor and undermine all the good work other councillors have done in implementing the city's Green Plan.
Strengthening community councils will do nothing to change that, and delegating certain decisions to bureaucrats may, indeed, have the unintended consequence of increasing an individual councillor's authority.
All parks are interconnected. Birds and butterflies heading for Humberwood Park and the city's protected migratory bird flyway project know nothing about political boundaries, and even less about municipal wards.
Many of the environmental problems that today threaten our climate, our health and our economy are the result of ill-considered decisions with unintended consequences. The same could be said of this ill-thought-out attempt to restructure municipal government.
Ruth Grier is a former MPP and NDP minister of the environment. firstname.lastname@example.org