The recent situation in which Winnipeg’s mayor, Sam Katz , faced a court case about spending public funds on his own business raises the broader issue of political accountability.
Most of us don’t have personal connections with those who represent us. Yet, their decisions affect everything from what roads are repaired to land use decisions, snow clearing, police expenses, community club funding, and how much tax we pay.
We decide who gets to hold public office, but there isn’t much we can do to hold them to account during their term. The problem is voters seem to have a very short memory at election time. During the 2014 civic election, will voters remember how their councillor voted over the years, or will they just go by what the candidates say in their campaigns?
It’s interesting to note some councillors say very little, while others are more engaged in executing their responsibility to the people who put their trust in them. Just a few weeks ago the majority of councillors voted to increase their own expense accounts from $74,000 to $114,000 per ward — a 54% increase! Wouldn’t it be great to decide how much your allowance should be?
Some information essential for political accountability is available on the City of Winnipeg website. The minutes of every council and standing policy committee meeting are available. You can find out how councillors voted on any issue and what they spend their ward allowances on.
Do you know what your councillor is using his or her allowance for? Unfortunately, it is not practical for every citizen to pore through the details of every council meeting over a four -ear period come election time. It would be ideal if people could easily look up councillors’ positions on particular issues, what they said in council, and how they voted on motions. With the current set up, this is very difficult and time-consuming.
Fortunately an Open and Accessible Data motion was passed by council in May 2012, which should lead to more open government and open data initiatives.
Once more data is made available to the public and media in accessible formats, the gap in political accountability between elections may be reduced.
Perhaps one day, the time between elections should be referred to as the ‘accountability period’!
Our current system lacks in accountability, and hopefully this can give us more trust in our democratic process – because at this point, greater accountability is essential.
Jody Gillis is a community correspondent for North Kildonan.