“Do you think we should be consulting the local residents before we make this decision?”
~ City Councillor Mike Layton
“I’ve got no quarrel with that”
~ City Councillor John Parker
During the 13 years that I’ve been following meetings at City Hall, I’ve learned a lot about how the democratic process is supposed to function. It’s a complicated process – one that I’ve tried to de-mystify for my readers last year by writing “Inside Baseball: The rules of City Council” and a chapter in Local Motion called “Finding your way through City Hall”.
The process can seem complicated and burdensome, but every part of it exists for a reason. The process is designed to include input from a variety of sources, such as from expert staff or from residents who will affected by a decision.
When procedural steps are avoided, or ignored, the system breaks down and the process is no longer democratic. One of the worst cases I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been watching Council meetings since Mel Lastman was mayor, and Jack Layton was a rogue Councillor), was last year when John Parker moved the motion to remove the Jarvis bike lanes at the June meeting of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.
The motion was moved – completely out of the blue – with no public consultation and no public notice. The local Councillor wasn’t informed, staff weren’t able to prepare a proper report, and the community had no way to submit feedback. It was one of the most demoralizing moments I’ve ever had at City Hall, and I wrote about it extensively both on my blog and also in the Toronto Star.
It was quite surprising that the motion was coming from John Parker – a man who has earned a lot of respect on Council for his role as Deputy Speaker. Most observers see him as being incredibly fair, evenhanded and respectful of the proper procedures. Many argue that he’s a much better Speaker than the Speaker herself (Frances Nunziata). I asked a few people recently what they thought of Parker.
“Parker is what I’d call one of council’s high-functioning conservatives, in that he doesn’t hug the party line at all costs, and will consider reasoned arguments from the `other side’.”
~ John Lorinc
“Parker’s done an excellent job as deputy speaker: he’s calm, even-handed, and maintains order without losing his sense of humour—councillors of all stripes respond well to him in that capacity.”
~ Hamutal Dotan
“John Parker appears to be motivated by intelligence and principle—he’ll take a stand and explain that stand rather than simply siding with like-minded colleagues or acting as a mindless member of the team. Moreover he is charming and hilarious both in the speakers’ chair and on Twitter—he often seems to recognize the absurdity of politics, and seldom seems to be out to stick the knife into anyone just for the sake of it.”
~ Edward Keenan
“John Parker is a very level-headed voice at council on most things. Even when I disagree with him, I can at least count on him to bring a fair argument to the table. Of course, all this supposed level-headedness is hard to square with what he did on Jarvis.”
~ Matt Elliott
Here’s the strange part: After Parker moved his eleventh-hour motion, Councillor Mike Layton expressed his disappointment in the process and publicly asked Parker if he would support a public consultation. Councillor Parker replied, without hesitation, “I’ve got no quarrel with that”. For those of us sitting in the room, there was a collective sigh of relief to hear that Parker didn’t want to circumvent the democratic process.
But then, a few minutes later, Councillor Parker changed his mind and voted against Layton’s motion for public consultation. The Committee decided to rip out the brand new bike lanes on Jarvis, at a cost of 250K, with no staff data to back up their position – and with no public consultation.
Yet, the man who moved the motion in the first place had publicly declared his support for consultation. The John Parker who said “I have no quarrel with that” is the John Parker many of us have gotten to know: a fair player, who sticks by the rules, an independent thinker on Council and by far the funniest Councillor on twitter.
So, who is the other John Parker? The one who voted against public consultation, against due diligence, and against the residents who live in Ward 27 and the Councillor who represents them?
Some will argue that public consultation is not necessary, because the bike lanes were installed in the first place without proper consultation. This is an insulting lie, both to the hundreds of citizens who did indeed participate in the original process, and to City Staff and former Councillor Kyle Rae who oversaw the community consultation. The original item appeared properly on a Committee Agenda, and members of the public had ample opportunity to speak and be heard.
If ever there was an item that deserved full community consultation, it would be an item that affected both public safety and the city’s budget. With a $250K price tag, and the safety of cyclists at risk – this is not an item to be rushed through Committee.
If Councillor Parker doesn’t like the bike lanes, that’s fine. I have no quarrel with that. But we have a proper process to hear what other people think, including the experts on Staff, so that Councillors can make an informed decision.
When Councillor Parker was asked about consultation, he was supportive. Minutes later, he voted against it – robbing the community of their right to speak. There seems to be two John Parkers. I’d like to see the real John Parker stand up, and clarify his position on the democratic process at City Hall.