At its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, Kingston City Council voted to approve a host of changes to the bylaw governing municipal committees.
Among the changes included in the staff report are new definitions for subcommittees and working groups, with many existing working groups being redefined as subcommittees because they report to other committees, while working groups report directly to City Council.
Other noteworthy changes included updates to the Arts Advisory Committee, which currently includes the appointment of two members of a community-based arts organization and two members of the education sector. As noted in the report, the appointments will be replaced with two additional public members, for a total of four public members on the committee.
Meanwhile, the Housing and Homelessness Advisory Committee will be updated to include a generic “public member” position, as opposed to the current position for a member or tenant of social/affordable housing. However, according to staff, preference will be given to applicants with “lived or living experience as a tenant of social/affordable housing.” The report noted, “currently, it is difficult to contact and appoint persons who meet the specific requirement related to social/affordable housing.”
One of the most significant elements of the report would have seen the City amalgamate the Arts, Recreation, and Community Policies (ARCP) Committee with the Environment, Infrastructure & Transportation Policies (EITP) Committee, in order to create a new Environment and Community Policies Committee. Staff explained the new committee “would be aligned with the services provided by the Community Services and Infrastructure, Transportation and Emergency Services groups, and the Climate Leadership Division.”
The report added, “This is in keeping with many of the current aspects of the ARCP and EITP Committees, which focus on environmental, infrastructure, cultural and recreational services.” Staff also noted that over the past four years, the two existing committees met fewer than five times per year, on average.
In addition to the new committee bylaw, the report included other recommendations, such as a direction for staff to undertake a review of the Appeals Committee, including a look into its procedural bylaws. The report noted staff will provide additional recommendations to Council by the fourth quarter of 2024. Meanwhile, the report also recommended staff consider a potential merger between the Arts Advisory Committee and the Kingston Heritage Programs Committee.
In response to Council’s decision this past June to direct staff to explore the possibility of a municipal francophone committee, staff recommended Council establish a francophone working group. Staff will continue to consult with members of the local francophone community regarding the working group’s mandate, membership, and terms of reference. A follow-up report will be presented to Council by the end of second quarter, 2024.
Lastly, the report recommended Council extend and expand its committee member honorarium pilot. Since the start of 2023, the City has provided a $100 per meeting honorarium to publicly appointed members of the Housing and Homelessness Advisory Committee. Staff recommended the honorarium program be extended for one additional year, and that it also be expanded to members of the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Advisory and Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees.
Staff noted, “Providing an honorarium may reduce the barriers for meaningful inclusion to equity seeking and equity deserving populations and will demonstrate that the City values the contributions of its public members of committees.”
Once the report was brought forward for debate during Tuesday’s meeting, the main item of concern for councillors was the potential merger between the ARCP and EITP committees. Collins-Bayridge District Councillor Lisa Osanic spoke out against the proposed change. “I do know that over the last year with this Council, there have been some ARCP Committee meetings that only lasted 10 minutes… and some EITP Committee meetings that had to be cancelled. But that’s just the last year,” she said, noting several environmental-related policies in the Strategic Plan, which will soon come under review.
Osanic pointed to a new aquatic centre as a big-ticket item which will likely generate significant public input when it is brought forward to the ARCP Committee in the future. She said, “If it’s anything like what we experienced from 2007 to 2009 when we last went through a new aquatic centre, one of those meetings went until 11 p.m.”
Osanic added, “Once those things start to get really heated up and there are big reports and public input… we’ve had, in the past, this entire [council chamber] filled… with people. So I don’t like the idea of combining those two committees.”
Portsmouth District Councillor Don Amos echoed some of Osanic’s concerns: “I think the [ARCP] Committee is going to have its hands full in the next couple of years… It needs to have its own mandate and its own agenda,” said Amos.
While the idea of merging the EITP and ARCP Committees generated significant discussion from councillors, it was not the only item representatives were concerned with. Loyalist-Cataraqui District Councillor Paul Chaves questioned whether a francophone working group was fair, given the wide range of other languages spoken in the community.
“We have a very diverse city. If we do this for one group then we should be doing this for all others,” he said. “According to a report we recently received during one of our training sessions, the top four languages spoken most often at home are French, Mandarin, Arabic, and Portuguese. So maybe… this should be a multicultural group.”
Chaves’s concerns were echoed by Trillium District representative Jimmy Hassan, who remarked, “I have the same concerns [with] giving the opportunity to one group in our community and ignoring the other[s]. It’s not a good option, I think. Maybe we could form [one] group for different cultural and ethnic [communities] to bring those groups together.”
The City’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Lanie Hurdle, responded to the councillors’ concerns, noting that the decision to form a francophone working group was first initiated by city councillors back in June of 2023.
“The initiative of considering a francophone committee or working group was actually directed by Council. This was a motion by Council asking staff to specifically look into this option, which is why staff went away and looked into this option,” she said.
Before the report was put to a vote, Mayor Bryan Paterson brought forward an amendment regarding the EITP and ARCP Committees, in order to remove the changes from the new committee bylaw and maintain the current provisions of both committees. The motion to amend passed with unanimous support from councillors, before members voted to approve the entire report as amended.
Members of the public can find the agenda from this meeting of Kingston City Council on the City of Kingston’s council meetings webpage, and the meeting can be viewed in its entirety on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.