November 23rd, 2017

No referendum for ward system

By Villeneuve, Melissa on June 21, 2017.

Melissa Villeneuve

Lethbridge Herald

Lethbridge City Council has voted against a referendum on whether councillors should be elected by a ward system.

Mayor Chris Spearman made the motion at Monday’s meeting to include the question on the ballot in October’s Municipal Election. By a vote of 6-1 the motion was defeated.

Spearman said it would have explored the appetite of the public for a ward system, which is something he’s heard rumblings about during the last two elections. He also referenced that the recommendation was brought forward by the Lethbridge Citizens’ Assembly on Councillor Employment and Compensation.

They presented their final report on Nov. 28, 2016, after 1,000 collective hours of research and discussion on the hours required for a councillor to fulfil their role as well as appropriate remuneration.

“I’m not passionate about this. I just thought it’s an issue to bring forward,” said Spearman during the meeting. “Council may or may not want to have a plebiscite at the next election, and I’ve just presented the information for council’s decision.”

The only two Alberta cities on a ward system are Calgary and Edmonton. Red Deer was on a ward system but converted back to the “at-large” system.

Council also defeated a motion by Coun. Jeff Coffman to explore how a ward system could work in Lethbridge with timelines for implementation by 2021, should it be desired.

With the city inching closer to 100,000 residents, Coffman said it would be prudent to explore the best means for effective council representation, whether it’s the current “at-large” system or a ward system.

“We know going forward we’re going to be part time, so does that change the formula? Do we need to go from ‘at-large’ to ‘ward’ so we can better focus the effort and energy? It’s about putting this back out to the community and doing it through a rational, information-based assessment of it.”

Coun. Bridget Mearns said it was a small group of people who made the suggestion and she didn’t feel exploring a ward system was warranted.

Coun. Liz Iwaskiw agreed. She said every time she hears the word ‘plebiscite’ it feels like “an abdication of duty.”

“It’s really down to council to decide whether we want a ward system,” said Iwaskiw. “People voted for us to make decisions on their behalf.”

Coffman said it was about getting the information and setting it up for the next council to decide whether or not to establish a ward system.

“This is part of the representative democratic process, that how we choose the people that we elect really affects a lot of different outcomes as well in terms of policy decisions, in terms of direction and whatnot,” he said during debate. “The ‘at-large versus ward system’ is one way of looking at how we can strengthen, address, or discuss even our representative democracy here in the city of Lethbridge.”

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