‘Muzzling’ accusations at Township council

A motion to limit notices of motion causes heated debate.

An attempt to restrict the number of times Township of Langley councillors can bring up issues is illegal, according to the councillor who is the apparent target of the proposal.

“This council has repeatedly tried to muzzle members of the public and members of this council including myself,” Kim Richter said Monday night.

Richter was reacting to a proposal by Councillor Grant Ward who wants a limit of one notice of motion per councillor every month, and a maximum of 10 notices of motions a year.

Filing a notice of motion allows a councillor to get an issue discussed and voted on at a meeting.

Ward’s notice of motion, seconded by Michelle Sparrow, said council “has experienced a dramatic increase in notices of motion reaching a high of approximately 10 on one council meeting day.”

Other municipalities average one or two notices of motion a year, Ward’s motion said.

The motion went on to complain that councillors are using the notices of motion rule to reopen debates on issues that have already been decided.

That was an apparent reference to Richter, who was trying to get council to talk about the controversial travel allowance recently approved by a majority of councillors.

Richter had filed a notice of motion to have councillors choose between the travel allowance or having one-third of their income declared tax-free.

But there was no debate, because Mayor Jack Froese ruled Richter’s proposal out of order.

Then came the debate over the proposal to set a limit on the number of motions.

Richter said she has obtained legal advice that the motion to limit motions violates the Canadian Charter if Rights and Freedoms.

“This notice of motion is out of order,” Richter said.

“This is clearly another gagging order. It’s illegal”

Councillor David Davis called it “a matter of freedom of speech.”

“We can’t go around muzzling councillors,” Davis said.

Ward said a limit is needed because “the decorum of this council meeting has deteriorated.”

Councillor Steve Ferguson wasn’t sure about setting a ceiling on notices of motion, but he also expressed some concern about the increasing use of the procedural move by councillors.

“I don’t believe it’s prudent to run a community by notices of motion,” Ferguson said. “Can’t we just sit down [and work this out]?””

Councillor Charlie Fox said he was willing to consider some kind of limit but “only if the motion is not deemed to violate the Charter of Rights.”

Fox convinced a majority of council to have the issue referred for legal advice, then sent to council’s Priorities Committee for discussion.

Councillors Davis, Ferguson, and Richter were opposed.

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