To be convinced, one must visit the site of the think tank Frontier Centre for Public Policy. One of the issues studied by Frontier Centre concerns local governments and the results are available at www.lgpi.ca (lgpi for local government performance index).
The data used to compare the performance of about 250 municipalities across Canada are strictly from the official financial reports released by the municipalities. Dozens of indicators are used to compare the performance of municipalities in all areas of municipal administration (level of taxation, revenue, expenses, etc.). A special place is given to the index of transparency. It is treated separately, always based on the data published by the municipalities.
For 2009, the latest year for which the data were compiled, Cornwall, with only 13 points out of a possible 36, ranks among the 10 least transparent cities in Canada. For six of the eleven indicators that help to determine the degree of transparency, Cornwall received 0 points. To convince you even more, compare Cornwall and Maple Ridge (BC) financial reports, available on the site.
If you are not yet convinced of the opacity of the municipal management of our city, try to find the results of the Municipal Performance Measurement Program (MPMP) on the city’s web site. This program, established some ten years ago by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, requires municipalities to assess the cost of the delivery of services and publish the results not later than the following September 30. Until 2008 the City of Cornwall published these results on its web site in a clear and comprehensible manner that allowed comparing the results both with previous years and with other cities. This way one could learn that in 2007 the cost of the police services per capita was $339.18 and in 2008 it had increased to $356.32 per person. One could also find that it was much higher than in other similar cities. For the years 2009 and 2010, the presentation of the data is so complicated and confusing that it is difficult to find the precise cost and even more difficult to make comparisons. Was the council aware of these changes, and if so, why did they accept them? Do they want to hide the costs from the taxpayers? In any case, this is not an example of transparency!
Lastly, we have seen several other examples of this lack of transparency, such as unannounced meetings held behind closed doors and in hidden places, as well as secret committees changing by-laws.
With the exception of the Youth Advisory Committee, agendas and minutes of the other committees are not on the web site, so the citizens have no way to know what happens. Also, it is practically impossible to find the total number of the city’s employees and their distribution by department on the city’s web site.
In the recent weeks much has been said about the errors made by the city in terms of human resource management and that this has lead to an additional cost of approximately $1.4 million. In the ensuing discussion, there was also question of the managers and their role in what happened. I would like to remind taxpayers that whatever the role of the managers was, the main party responsible for this lack of transparency are the elected councillors and the mayor. It is to them that we have delegated our democratic power and it is they who are accountable. Often it seems that after the election, politicians forget why and by whom they were elected. If the Chief Executive Officer and the Director of Human Resources have made bad recommendations to the mayor and councillors, it was the latter, as the taxpayers’ representatives to exercise good judgement. If they agreed to the procedures recommended by the managers, they showed poor judgement and are directly responsible for the financial losses incurred by the city.
Freshman councillor Maurice Dupelle, surprised by this turn of events, has had the good sense to propose to the city to apologise to the taxpayers. But, to apologise means to recognise one’s mistake and it seems that our elected representatives do not have the moral sense to do something like that.
But ultimately, we are the ones who elected them and we should blame ourselves for having trusted them. We were wrong about them, and therefore, we have the municipal government that we deserve, until the next election.
Corneliu Kirjan – Free Thinking Citizen – Cornwall Ontario
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