By Kyra Bird
Ward 11 councillor Jeromy Farkas has recently made headlines for voting against motions that would make approving secondary suites easier and decide on a new parental leave policy for councillors. And he wasn’t shy about defending those positions at his most recent town hall event.
The event, held on Thursday at Stanley Park Community Hall, was the third monthly town hall that Farkas has held since taking office. The forums are an opportunity for ward 11 residents to come out and ask the councillor any question they want.
The issue of secondary suites was brought up by Farkas in his opening statements.
This past Monday, council approved a bylaw amendment that stops secondary suite applications from being heard on the floor of city council. Instead the process will go through the city’s planning department.
The amendment passed 9-6. Although Farkas himself called the old process “cruel” and “inhumane,” he was one of the six councillors who voted no to the change. He did this, he says, for a number of reasons, including the fact that the amendment treats above-garage suites in the same way as it treats basement suites, and the two are very different and carry their own concerns.
“When it comes to the above-garage suites,” Farkas said. “They’re essentially second, stand-alone homes and I didn’t feel comfortable granting that discretionary decision-making authority over to city staff rather than having that piece held at council.”
Farkas acknowledged that the amendment is an improvement, however, and especially likes that residents now have the ability to go to the subdivision appeal board to appeal secondary suite decisions, “whereas previously if council had approved that land use you had nobody to go to.”
The councillor promised to continue to work closely with city staff to ensure the criteria that will be used by public servants will be clearly defined and will help the system run smoothly.
On the topic of parental leave, Farkas was challenged by a member of the audience who disagreed with his decision to vote against a proposal that asked council to develop a parental leave policy. The audience member stressed the importance of allowing parents to be with their children, even if those parents are elected officials.
The proposal was brought to council after a parental leave policy that allows councillors to take up to 26 months off was approved in Edmonton in January. Farkas was the sole member of Calgary’s council to vote against the proposal. This ruffled some feathers not only in his own constituency, but among his fellow councillors.
Farkas explained that he voted against the proposal because it was “so very vague and open-ended.” He also feels that councillors shouldn’t be deciding their own pay and benefits. He believes the issue should go to an independent citizens committee, as councillors have a vested interest in the outcome of such a policy.
“Some of the emotions that were illustrated through this discussion,” he said. “Show… I think my point where I don’t think it should be the politicians deciding. We’re so close to this as an issue that I think it should be relatively hands-off.”