If you have been paying attention to the process of the public safety committee, city administration and council as they worked on developing a way to make it possible for pet owners with more than the allowed number of animals (two dogs and three cats) to license these additional pets, it may not be exactly surprising that a bid to change the bylaw went down to defeat at second reading during the Oct. 28 council meeting.
But if you are one of the citizens who approached the public safety committee seeking to make it possible to license more than two dogs or three cats in an effort to play by the rules, the fact that it ended up being wasted time most likely leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth.
It was back in mid-February – more than eight months ago – that the committee decided not to simply up the limits on the number of pets residents can have, due to the fact that the animal control officer does not have the time to deal with an increased number of pets, only about 20 per cent of which are licensed. Knowing what we know now, it probably would have been to everyone’s benefit if that had been the end of things. But city administration said it would be willing to create a special permit for residents who had exceeded the bylaw limits and to consider their applications on a case-by-case basis. Had the city also stipulated back then, that such a permit would have only been available to people who already had more than two dogs or three cats at the time such a permit was created, much time and hot air would have been saved. But instead the development of such a permit became cumbersome, with requirements for a home inspection (later removed) and health checks of pets and notification of neighbours added. If the goal was to just discourage people from wanting to make this a reality, it didn’t work. So eventually, six of the nine members of council (Coun. Judy Kolada was attending out-of-town meetings Oct. 28 and not present at the council meeting) had to make the decision to just vote against the bylaw amendment and bring discussion to an end that way. Why they couldn’t have done so at first reading, other than to give the public a chance to voice their opinions to them privately, instead of allowing the process to drag on before ultimately dropping the hammer, is a question that only those councillors and the mayor can answer.
To be clear, the mayor and councillors are elected to make decisions. In 2016, the public safety committee decided, about five months after receiving a request from a resident, not to increase the number of dogs and cats the bylaw allows. It was, in comparison to the more recent process, efficient. It didn’t make everyone happy, but decisions made by the city and council almost never do. One thing that process didn’t do was waste as much administrative and committee time or get people’s hopes up that their request would actually bring about a change.
There is an expression that politics is the art of the possible. Sure, there are processes in place and policies you have to follow in order to get those results. And if getting those results isn’t possible, getting bogged down in the process is pointless, even counter-productive. The councillors who voted against second reading of the bylaw amendment should have opposed it at first reading if they didn’t honestly believe that there was anything that was going to sway them from ultimately voting against it. The two councillors on the losing side should have made sure much earlier in the process that there was a reasonable chance of this amendment succeeding. They say that lawyers should never ask a question in court that they don’t already know the answer to. Politicians should try to abide by the same principle in a lot of cases: if you know you don’t have the votes to get something passed, you’re mostly playing politics, rather than putting efforts towards achieving an actual policy change. And, as much as people who would like to be able to license more than two dogs or three cats would have been disappointed to get a straight-up “no” much earlier in the process like they did in 2016, it would probably be an easier pill to swallow than going through this rigmarole only to end up back at the starting point.