Councillor calls for accountable voting

Betty Irwin wants her vote recorded. Right now, every time the city councillor votes on an issue, it's not written down. None of the councillors' votes are.

Betty Irwin wants her vote recorded.

Right now, every time the city councillor votes on an issue, it’s not written down.

None of the councillors’ votes are.

All that’s recorded is the final result.

So a budget could pass four to three, or it could pass unanimously, and the public would never know the difference.

All the public knows is the budget passed.

This irks Irwin.

MLAs and MPs can win or lose elections based on their voting records, she said.

“And if I run again, I would like people to be able to call up my voting record.”

Irwin consistently voted against the Black Street local improvement charge, but unless someone were sitting in the council chambers when the councillors voted, there would be no way of knowing who was for and who was against the fees.

“You can ask to have your vote recorded in the minutes,” said Irwin.

But it’s optional.

“And you’d have to go digging through all the minutes to find it,” she said.

Irwin tried to troubleshoot the problem, suggesting the camera filming council meetings pan out during votes, so those watching at home can see how council votes.

She was told it was too much of a hassle.

“But I know they sometimes give us the view of the whole council,” she said.

Irwin also tried to raise the vote-recording issue with council, “but didn’t get much traction,” she said.

She’s considering working up “the courage to bring it up again, at the risk of it being slammed down.”

Mayor Bev Buckway doesn’t think keeping a vote record is all that important.

“It’s never really entered into the mix,” she said.

“Council makes decisions as a whole.”

She just doesn’t see the point of keeping a record of how councillors vote on any given motion.

“I don’t think it would make a difference,” said Buckway.

“At this point I don’t see what purpose it would serve.”

But Coun. Ranj Pillai agrees with Irwin.

“We should make sure we identify people’s positions on votes,” he said.

That way, electors can see if it fits with the vision each councillor laid out when they ran, he said.

When Pillai arrived on council, he was surprised votes weren’t recorded.

“It’d be really simple, because we have someone taking minutes there anyway,” he said.

City administrative services director Robert Fendrick is not sure it would make a difference.

“The average citizen is not going to go through the minutes to see how people voted,” he said.

Now and then, if councillors feel strongly about an issue, they will ask to have their vote recorded, said Fendrick.

But this still doesn’t mean all the other councillors’ votes are recorded.

It would be easy to amend the bylaw, so votes are recorded, said Fendrick.

Council would just have to vote on it.

It all comes down to transparency, said Irwin.

“Our main mission is to serve the public,” she said.

“And voting on an issue is a very serious thing.”

With seven people serving on city council, there are bound to be divisions, said Irwin.

“And people should know not all of council agrees, all the time.”

The last budget is a case in point.

Management was worried it wouldn’t pass, said Irwin.

It did – but only by one vote.

“But in the eyes of the public, they just think everyone on council agreed,” she said.

The public would have no way of knowing the vote was contentious, unless they were at the council meeting.

Irwin suspects the next budget will be even more contentious.

“And people should know this,” she said.

Irwin blames voter apathy on the lack of information coming from government.

“Sometimes we forget our mission is to make things clearer for the public,” she said.

“I think everything should be questioned and changed if it makes the process clearer.

“Democracy is such a delicate process and if you don’t keep watch, abuses can creep in.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at