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Joe McFarland: Calgary city council becoming its own worst enemy

Calgary City Hall fall 2017
Calgary City Hall fall 2017. Dani Lantela / Global News/File

Another week, another city council meeting that went off the rails.

While the focus could have been on the major development in Victoria Park, the latest plan for a potential events centre/arena project or even a social procurement strategy, the focus once again went in one direction — Jeromy Farkas.

In what should have been an easy lay-up of an agenda item about their own pay, they tripped over themselves figuring out what exactly the raise — or paycut, depending on who you talk to — would be.

By now, we’ve all heard the story of what Farkas said on social media and what council’s response was. I won’t rehash that.

READ MORE: Calgary CFO admits ‘confusion’ over council pay increase; Farkas feels he’s ‘done nothing wrong’

What I will go into is how this council has made a game out of being dysfunctional and it really needs to stop.

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A while back, I really struggled with the idea of using that word — dysfunctional.

I’m all for having varying viewpoints around the council table. The nice thing about municipal politics is that there are no parties. Each individual councillor is supposed to represent their own ward.

READ MORE: Jeromy Farkas kicked out of meeting as Calgary council votes down salary freeze

We, as citizens of this city, should expect there to be a couple of councillors to hold their colleagues’ feet to the fire. It’s refreshing to see sometimes, because it leads to better governance.

I look no further than the almost-constant bickering between Dave Bronconnier and Ric McIver. Who can forget the “Support Our Troops” decal debacle.

A more-recent standoff around the council table would have been Mayor Naheed Nenshi going at it with Gord Lowe from time-to-time.

READ MORE: Tensions run high at Calgary pro-pipeline rally as council declares support for oil industry

It felt like this version of city council was walking a tightrope right from the get-go. New councillors wasted no time in getting their hands dirty and it seemingly made the veterans uncomfortable. Nothing really new though.

But during the Olympic debate, and in particular the final ten days before the plebiscite, that tightrope snapped from right under council’s feet. So many questions were being asked that fingers started to get pointed in directions they didn’t normally get pointed.

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Since that vote, every meeting has been prone to bickering and grandstanding.

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If someone doesn’t like something, why not turn to social media to air grievances?

READ MORE: Calgary mayor, councillors defend ‘walkout’ amid accusations of bullying

It’s one thing to have disagreements or personality conflicts around the table. Those are bound to happen with 15 different voices and opinions being shared.

But I hate to break it to councillors — from an outsider’s perspective, this looks downright toxic right now.

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You now have the different factions digging their heels in, not willing to budge or admit when they are wrong. You also have some who are seemingly celebrating the dysfunction and claiming “vindication.”

Let me be clear — no one is winning.

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The perception of council isn’t favourable and it’s overshadowing some of the things that are actually getting done. And you know who loses the most? Calgarians.

Hopefully the Christmas season allows cooler heads to prevail and maybe they can approach 2019 with an eye to actual business.

We can only hope.