Did the Uncertainty Principle keep the OPP costing alive?


Despite the protests of some online commenters, who claim to be sick and tired of hearing about the OPP costing issue, I must indulge my inner wonk on this question of procedure.

Because how decisions are made in a democracy is important, sometimes as important as the decisions themselves.

So let's play this out, for the sake of settling the matter.

Former councillor Louise Severson yesterday suggested a procedural trick was responsible for the failure of a motion to quash the costing.

On Tuesday, council voted five-four in favour of Councillor Jeff Earle's motion to rescind the costing decision reached in April.

Had it been a straight vote, the motion would have passed.

However, a motion to reconsider a previous council decision needs a two-thirds majority to pass. And that can't even happen without a previous two-thirds vote agreeing to suspend the rules of procedure.

On Tuesday, councillors voted without difficulty to suspend those rules.

Then came the vote on whether to reconsider the motion asking for an OPP costing.

Here's where Severson and Mayor David Henderson part ways.

In Severson's view, this should have been a discussion on whether or not to reconsider – and nothing else – the same as the quick vote on the rules of procedure.

Had it been done this way, all the hands would have gone up, and after that, the original motion, the motion asking city manager Bob Casselman to ask for an OPP costing, would have been back on the table.

At that point, Severson believes, there would have been a five-four vote against the motion – effectively killing the costing, since at this point a simple majority is enough.

Of course, what happened instead was that councillors launched into a debate on whether or not to continue with the costing, during the stage in which, in Severson's view, they should have been discussing whether or not to reconsider.

At that stage, five-four was not enough.

Severson wonders whether Henderson manoeuvred to ensure that simple-majority vote never happened.

I may be obsessing here on a procedural detail, in the same way physicists may quibble over quantum mechanics in a way that seems to mean very little to people's lives; but if democracy is to work in a reliable and consistent way, then its rules need to be followed, as it were, down to the subatomic level.

I choose the metaphor carefully, because at the subatomic level uncertainty enters the way we see things.

Mayor Henderson calls it “overlap”: the grey area where you have to discuss the merits of the initial motion in order to discuss whether to reconsider it.

Viewed in this grey Heisenbergian light, the discussion that led to the five-four vote was on a single critical question: Does the delay in the OPP costing to next September make it necessary to reconsider the motion to seek that costing?

The procedural correctness of Tuesday's vote is directly proportional to the share of Tuesday's debate that can be related to that question.

The fact this delay means council won't vote on an OPP costing in its term? Related, since councillors enacted the April motion fully expecting to resolve the issue in this term.

The impact of this delay on city police cost-saving efforts? Related. Cost-saving was the whole point of the April vote.

The impact on officer and staff morale? Related. That, too, entered the April equation.

Unless I was too busy tweeting, I do believe I've covered the majority of Tuesday's discussion.

So council's vote is defensible, then, on the notion the debate did take place on the merits of reconsidering.

Perhaps in a very grey sort of way.

Here's one last bit of Uncertainty Principle for you: I would never have had this chance to indulge in wonkish procedural parsing had Tom Blanchard been at the meeting.