Councillors hire lawyer to persuade re-vote on contentious transportation plan
A trio of Winnipeg city councillors opposed to portions of the city’s controversial pedestrian and cycling strategy are calling for a re-vote after they produced a legal opinion that found there were no grounds to block debate to the amendments they were proposing.
Couns. Russ Wyatt, Ross Eadie and Jason Schreyer hired local lawyer Dave Hill following the July 15 council meeting, where Speaker Devi Sharma — on the advice of the city clerk — refused to allow debate on the 20 amendments to the strategy.
Sharma ruled the city’s procedure bylaw limits the number of amendments to a motion to two, and that was taken up by two friendly amendments already put forward by Couns. Scott Gillingham and Jenny Gerbasi.
Schreyer immediately rose to challenge Sharma’s ruling, but he couldn’t muster enough support from other councillors to support him.
But in a written report to the three councillors, Hill said he could find no provisions in the procedure bylaw to support Sharma’s ruling and added perhaps the motion approving the strategy was illegal because council had broken its own rules by refusing debate on all the amendments.
"I am not surprised there is now legal opinion backing up my challenge of the Speaker," Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan) said.
Wyatt (Transcona) said he hopes the legal opinion is enough to persuade Mayor Brian Bowman to bring the strategy back to council for another vote.
"All we want is our amendments to be considered," Wyatt said Friday.
The three councillors said they used their ward allowance funds to hire Hill, explaining his legal bill is expected to be in the range of $500 to $750.
"It’s a travesty that well-thought-out amendments were denied democratic debate," Eadie (Mynarski) said.
Bowman’s office said the mayor was unavailable for comment Friday.
City clerk Richard Kachur said council has always interpreted Section 27 of the procedure bylaw as limiting the number of amendments to any motion to two.
"I didn’t have to get a legal opinion, it’s always been interpreted this way for the past 20 years," Kachur said. "There’s been lots of practice and precedent to support this. This is how council conducts itself."
Council’s July 15 meeting was a wild affair, with Wyatt storming out of the chambers after Sharma blocked debate on the 20 amendments.
Wyatt ran to the mayor’s office and taped a copy of each amendment to his glass door and wrote "democracy denied" on each document.
At the July 15 meeting, Sharma ruled only the first two amendment motions tabled for an item can be debated and voted on. She said, based on advice from the city clerk, that if more motions are added for debate, it requires a two-thirds vote of council to suspend the rules and allow the debate on the additional amendments.
Only Wyatt, Eadie, Schreyer, Jeff Browaty and Shane Dobson voted to suspend the rules.
That council meeting culminated a month-long campaign by Wyatt, Eadie and Browaty to gather support for changes to the strategy. They had singled out errors in the maps that marked out pedestrian and cycling routes. They even took out radio ads promoting their concerns.