A New Approach to Good Local Government for Regina

Alexandra Burnett, Commentary, Regina

We are indeed fortunate to live in a free and open democratic society, where we can go to the polls, cast our ballots, and all the votes count to elect people that represent our interests even if they are competing interests. Citizens rely on their local governments to efficiently deliver local services, but this can be difficult for elected officials who are trying to represent people with varying interests and, at the same time, to do good things for a whole municipality.

Regina provides a case study of this difficulty.

This prairie city has seen a number of controversial issues brought to city council, such as the football stadium build of 2012. These important issues obviously affect all citizens, and therefore represent a major concern for their elected officials. However, the way the Regina city council is structured, it is difficult for councillors to represent their constituents while administering the bureaucracy at city hall. No doubt, things need to improve.

Recently, Frontier Centre for Public Policy published “Separation and Good Government: Administrative Firewall” authored by Gerard A. Lucyshyn, VP of Research. In his report, Lucyshyn shows how the municipal administration of Regina can be improved.  The practices he recommends are used effectively in other Canadian cities and, indeed, around the world.

This report reveals that there are some simple steps that Regina council can adopt to deliver better, more efficient, and lower-cost local services to residents.

Regina city councillors have diverse experience and expertise, but their expertise is not being used effectively. Lucyshyn argues that transparency and accountability must improve. No doubt, many citizens agree with him.

The report recommends that the Regina city council should adopt the following four practices that will improve efficiency and, at the same time, help city administrators deliver effective and low-cost services to residents:

  1.  Council must establish an administrative firewall between councilors and administrators in the city Charter.
  2. The firewall must limit the range of responsibilities for the administrators.
  3. Council must adopt performance metrics to determine if the objectives in the legislation passed by council are being achieved.
  4. Council must appoint department heads on the bases of their performances on the metrics.

 

These four simple practices have been shown to be effective in municipalities around the world, and they can be easily tailored to fit the needs of Regina. For a capital city, like Regina, it is crucial to have the effective delivery of local services. This can only happen by changing the way the city council works. Specifically, council must create and maintain standardized performance metrics that tracks the delivery of services in all the relevant departments. Council members must be responsible for monitoring the system, ensuring the services are delivered, but not should not be responsible for delivering the services.

The firewall between the council and the managers applies only to the implementation of services, and not to the selection and level of services that are provided. As such, the firewall ensures that the local governance is accountable to the citizens, while relying on efficiencies developed and implemented by the professional manager.

By accepting the four proposed practices, local services would be delivered more efficiently and more cost-effectively, maximizing the services delivered by tax dollars. Even though city managers are not elected, the council must keep them accountable by using performance indicators.

By adopting the simple strategies Lucyshyn recommends, Regina citizens will get to vote on policies that are then efficiently implemented by professional managers. Council will simply ensure that policies are implemented.