Everywhere I go, I hear that people are unhappy with the way in which the business of our city is conducted at Council. One of Nova Scotia’s largest employers, with an annual budget of nearly a billion dollars, and yet there is never enough to do what needs to be done. We need to be top of our game if we want to maximize the asset we have in Halifax – for Nova Scotia and the entire region.
Appropriate, forward thinking and best practice governance is a powerful tool we can use. Appropriate size is a starting point for good governance.
The Halifax Chamber of Commerce has been advocating for a reduction in the size of council to 15 councillors. But this is no bandwagon we’re jumping on – the Chamber’s involvement in the boundary review debate has been extensive. Since 2002, we’ve been recommending that a smaller city council would lead to more efficient and effective governance for the municipality.
This has been expressed repeatedly to us by our 1500 local business members who, collectively, employ about 80,000 citizens in our city. In our most recent Spring Issues Survey, 81% of our members agreed that council was too large, consistent with other citizen polls done.
This is significant for our local businesses because they rely and depend on City Council to make the right choices for them in a timely manner. Local entrepreneurs require stability and efficient decision-making for their own business planning purposes. This includes the many tax and development-related decisions Council faces on a regular basis, which often have enormous implications for local businesses.
If one were to take the cities that were used recently by our City Council itself to get comparable data for compensation analysis for Councillors, we would see that of the seven comparative cities used for this purpose, the average Council size is 15.
While it is prudent to benchmark against other Canadian cities, we should ask ourselves, “Why don’t we create our own ‘made in Halifax’ solution?” Instead of playing ‘follow the leader’, lets be the leader. Be brave. Be visionary. Let other cities look to us for best practices. Clearly, the current structure is not nearly as efficient or effective as it could be – indeed, as it needs to be. We have an opportunity here to be bold and strong, showing other cities what can be done and demonstrate the leadership that our city so desperately needs and deserves.