May 29th, 2024

Ward system question being put on October ballot

By Tim Kalinowski on July 15, 2021.


Lethbridge voters will have the opportunity to choose how they want to be represented in the future by their municipal government after city council approved a ballot question on a potential Ward system during the Oct. 18 city election.
The motion, put forth by Coun. Jeffrey Coffman, was approved 8-1 during Tuesday’s meeting.
The question on the ballot will read: “Do you support using a ward system to elect City Councillors (other than the Mayor) starting with the 2025 municipal election?”
Coffman said he brought forth the motion not because he necessarily favours one system over another when it comes to local representation, but rather because citizens should have the final say on how they want to be represented.
“Each of you has actually heard me say this publicly ad nauseam over my time on council that it’s the citizens, it’s the voters, who should be determining what the process is to elect representatives,” he said.
“The electoral system is not for us (on council), it is actually for the voters. It’s a clear understanding of who they elect, who represents them, and how. And so it is a structure citizens need to be involved in creating. It puts the power where the power deserves to be; which is with the voters.”
Coun. Joe Mauro was the only councillor opposed to putting the Ward system question on the municipal ballot this fall.
“You know this is going to be a divisive issue,” Mauro stated in response to Coffman. “And you know that historically we get, what? Thirty per cent voter turnout? If I could sit here and know full well that there was going to be 80 or 90 per cent of our voters come to vote, I would support this… So technically even if it goes to a ballot, and you get 20-30 per cent of the voters, you are still getting a very small segment of the community.”
Mauro went on to state his own personal preference for the at-large system as it exists today.

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I take some small issue with this article. Had I not watched the Council meeting, I would be left with the impression that the citizens of Lethbridge will actually choose an electoral system in a binding referendum in the fall. They will not. The “ballot question” is entirely non-binding and worded so broadly as to be completely non-directive. Two of the Councillors (“Lifers” Carlson and Parker) went out of their way to ensure the question was not binding before voting on the resolution.
If only because this question will now be on the ballot, a “ward system” will be an election issue. This was a missed opportunity to recall that this council has covered this ground before, rejecting a “citizen’s assembly” empowered to recommend a new (or unchanged) electoral system. A missed opportunity to remind voters which Councillors favoured an assembly (Coffman, Crowson, Campbell, Parker) and which opposed it (Spearman, Carlson, Hyggen, Mauro, and Miyashiro), and to ask them why. A missed opportunity to ask of Parker and Carlson why it was so important to them that a ballot question be non-binding, and what result would be required to move them to support a new system.
I certainly hope the Herald will follow up on this story. Isn’t it a central purpose of journalism to inform the public about the positions politicians take on election issues, especially during an election year?