Calgary City Council has rejected putting a limit on how many members can travel to Federation of Canadian Municipalities conferences. However, council did move to put limits in place on how much a councillor can expense for the event.
The idea of limiting councillors at the FCM comes up ever few years or so at the city council table, and this year’s push comes on the heels of the controversy surrounding Joe Magliocca’s expenses at last year’s conference.
The Ward 2 councillor was council’s representative on the FCM board and his expenses from last year’s event in Quebec City were thousands of dollars more than anyone else who attended.
On Tuesday, Councillor Jeromy Farkas tried to convince his colleagues on limits on attendance and expenses.
“I’m not saying that we should send nobody, I’m saying that we don’t need to budget for and send the majority of council,” the Ward 11 councillor said.
Farkas wanted to limit the attendees to the mayor, council’s representative on the FCM board and one other councillor.
“I never once said learning is bad. What I did say is that it doesn’t need to be every single councillor that attends.”
Councillor Peter Demong said the FCM conference provides valuable training for municipal politicians, and councillors come back with ideas that can save the city millions of dollars, pointing to the example of Calgary’s switch to LED street lights.
“If only one councillor had gone to that convention it would have been pretty tough to convince the others of the value. My understanding is that $7 million a year in savings is due to that LED program. How else does a councillor learn to be become a better councillor than by going to conventions where they actually interact with other councillors and go into their learning experiences? Basically job training is what this entire conference is all about.”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi believes Farkas could have had more success if he didn’t try to limit council attendees to just one member other than the mayor and the FCM rep.
“I think one is way too restrictive and ultimately, members of council need to get better at their jobs and need to do some of that learning. Does it have to be 10 every year? No, I don’t think so. So there might have been a more reasonable mid-path, but the mover didn’t look for that.”
Farkas was successful in limiting conference expenses to no more than $3,000 per councillor, and no alcohol can be expensed to the city.