Cutting one seat out of 10? Meh...


The funniest moment in Tuesday's brief discussion of the looming council cut motion concerned, inevitably, the mayor.

“Would we be looking at eliminating the mayor's position? Because there'd be a lot more bang for the buck,” quipped Councillor Jeff Earle.

The gag was similar to one made in the previous term by former councillor Gord Beach, when he joked, at a public meeting in November 2009, that he was the author of an email suggesting Mayor David Henderson be the one to lose his seat in a council cutback.

In politics, as in life, the seasons repeat themselves, and this particular point in a city council's term appears to be the season for discussing a slight council reduction.

It's hard to comment at length until the actual motion makes it to to floor, likely in the next few weeks. But from the outset, it seems as if the plan to be discussed will closely resemble the downsizing motion that fell to a six-four vote at roughly this time in the previous council's term.

That plan called for eliminating one council seat, leaving eight councillors and a mayor who could cast a convincing tie-breaking vote.

Back then, the public's response to the downsizing proposal was underwhelming. At a public meeting earlier that November, the members of the public in attendance were fewer in number than a reduced council would have been.

Is there anything to indicate the public has any more appetite today for such a plan?

Not that I can see.

The council reduction motion, coming to the council table from a governance subcommittee, is hardly the result of a public outcry.

And come October and November, when any downsizing motion is likeliest to be discussed, the local political arena could be dominated by the OPP costing debate. That will depend, as we now know, on the timing of the OPP's provincial billing reform exercise.

Anger over any OPP decision could be a powerful motivator for council reductions – for all the wrong reasons. But given the province's December deadline for any downsizing to take effect in the next election, that scenario is a non-starter.

It could just be the public is this uninterested in the council reduction idea because the reduction being proposed is itself so underwhelming.

Cutting one seat from a 10-seat council is hardly a structural reform. It's more like trimming.

Were the plan to call, for instance, for a five-member council, or even a seven-seat governing body, with six councillors and a tie-breaking mayor, one could argue this is a discussion about how big a government Brockville needs.

The discussion could centre on whether a large council provides big government or a welcome diversity of opinion. It could also focus on whether Brockville, in governance terms, is a small city or a big town.

Trimming it by one to get an odd number, by comparison, seems merely cosmetic.

And unless that changes, the response is likely to be the same every four years: “Meh."