May 30th, 2024

Election achieves both change and status quo, says political scientist

By Herald on October 19, 2021.

Vehicles line up at voting booths as residents cast their ballots during election day at the drive-thru polling station at Exhibition Park. Herald photo

Tim Kalinowski – Lethbridge Herald

Monday’s city council elections achieved the relatively rare feat of being both about change and holding onto the status quo at the same time, says Faron Ellis, a Political Science professor with Lethbridge College.

The desire for change was more expressed at the mayoral race level than anywhere else, he says.

“It looks with the mayor’s race that Hyggen captured that discontent vote, and he certainly led the charge on the previous council representing some of that discontent,” Ellis states. “And then he parlayed that into a successful mayor’s campaign. But then after that voters look at potentially collectively, and see there is going to be some guaranteed change; so a little bit of stability helps as well. And that (stability) is the incumbents. So people said, ‘I am voting for some change, but I don’t want radical change.’”

Ellis says of the eight councillors elected there were no dark horses that found there way into the stable, as all elected had higher name recognition in the community or previous council experience.

Ellis does expect this council to be a bit more fiscally conservative than the last one, but not radically so.

“It was a pretty status quo election,” he states. “There is a perennial debate between needs and wants. I think the newly-elected council is a little bit more of a needs council as opposed to a wants council.”

Ellis says he was not surprised by the slightly higher voter turnout this election with a hotly contested mayors’ race and no incumbent running.

“That typically happens when you have a hotly contested or vacated, and therefore even more hotly contested, mayor’s race,” he confirms. “Typically really hot topic referenda questions, plebiscite questions, will increase turnout too. But I am not sure any of these referenda questions boosted turnout.”

That being said, the results of the local ballot box questions were tantalizing, says Ellis, particularly when it comes to the Ward system one. Almost 56 per cent of residents voted in favour of the non-binding ballot question to bring in a Ward system to Lethbridge.

“It’s not binding, but nevertheless they put it on ballot,” he says. “It’s not overwhelming, but there was a clear majority support for it. There will be an obligation on this next council to at least take it seriously enough to come up with a system. They have an obligation to at least spend some time and resources to come up with a proposal.”

Ellis expects that proposal to come before the public in the first two years of the new council term, and for the public to have substantial input on what a potential Ward system would look like. It will take some careful thought, he expects, to plan such a system out to meet the needs of future citizens in their political representation on city council.

“The Ward system does give you better neighbourhood representation,” he acknowledges. “You know who your councillor is, and you know who to phone. One, or in some cases, a couple of councillors are there to represent you in your neighbourhood. But the challenge there is if that councillor says, ‘Take a hike,’ you are limited in your options.”

Similarly with the ballot question about a third bridge for Lethbridge getting over 60 per cent support, Ellis expects the newly-elected council to begin laying the groundwork for its potential construction.

“They are not obliged to build it tomorrow, but they are pretty much obliged to move it up in the CIP,” he states. “I think at least get it to the engineering and design phase, sort of what they call the ‘shovel-ready’ stage, so that when appropriate federal or provincial infrastructure grants become available, and they do on a regular basis, that it is at that shovel-ready stage.”

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