July 17th, 2024

Governance SPC split on ward system

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on May 27, 2022.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

City council in its entirety will be examining the concept of an electoral ward commission after its Governance Standing Policy Committee on Thursday failed to reach consensus on approving a motion to recommend a commission be approved.
A split 2-2 vote on the motion recommending council proceed with the analysis, engagement, recommendation and implementation phases in the 2025 Electoral Ward System Conceptual plan means it was defeated.
A report submitted by City Clerk Bonnie HIlford called on the SPC to recommend council approve a one-time budget of $297,000 for the plan.
Acting mayor Belinda Crowson and councillor John Middleton-Hope voted for the motion while councillors Jeff Carlson and Rajko Dodic were opposed.
Crowson requested the matter go into the submissions part of a council agenda rather than being part of the consent agenda.
In the 2021 municipal election, a question was put on ballots asking “do you support using a ward system to elect city councillors (other than the mayor) starting with the 2025 municipal election?
Of th 28,348 who voted – which was about 35 per cent of eligible voters – 55.69 per cent voted “yes” while 44.31 per cent voted “no” to the non-binding question.
Hilford told the SPC at its April meeting councillors wouldn’t have to live in the ward they run for election in. Ward systems are presently used in Calgary and Edmonton in the province and no rules exist about the minimum population to have one.
Dodic stated his opposition to a commission, telling the SPC “I will not be supporting this resolution. Part of the problem is when the question was put to the electorate, it was very simple” before repeating the question to the SPC.
“Questions like that are so open-ended and can have different meanings for different people. If it was included in the information that we have today that there’s going to be a significant initial outlay and a significant ongoing cost if you proceed with a ward system, I suspect that the 55/45 in favour would have flipped,” said Dodic.
“In this case, I’m voting against this because of the initial cost, the ongoing cost and part of the problem with it too is that electors are limited to voting for candidates in their ward whereas candidates don’t have to live in that particular ward, which is really for me problematic. And it has been said in both debate and in the material presented to us suggesting somehow without any evidence supporting it, the ward system would increase electoral participation. I don’t accept that as a fact just because it says that’s a fact.”
Carlson told SPC he wouldn’t support the resolution, saying knowing it will go to council to be fully debated and discussed gives him some comfort.
Carlson questioned what the SPC is trying to achieve.
Carlson said there seems to “be a disconnect in what people feel a ward system’s going to achieve and what it actually can achieve. I think that’s a discussion I want to have with the community. What would you like to see changed that you think is going to come out of a ward system?”
Carlson said there could be 42 candidates running in one ward and three in another.
“I think a lot of suppositions people have made about a ward system aren’t actual fact.”
He said he wants to talk to voters and ask them “what are the barriers to participation. What are the barriers for the things you see getting in the way of good representation. I think we might come to better solutions” than accepting a ward system, he added.
Crowson said motion didn’t say council was going to a ward system, but rather it called for creating a commission comprised of city residents to bring forward recommendations.
That committee may or may not recommend a ward system and could say the city would be better served by having full-time councillors and meeting at night when more members of the public could attend, said Crowson.
“They might suggest something that we’re not even thinking yet but this is the conversation. And civic engagement is absolutely vital to our community. We spend $300,000 on a lot of things in Lethbridge. We have so many studies sitting on shelves that may or may not ever get implemented. This is a study, a commission that looks into the very heart of civic engagement. Why are there not more people voting in Lethbridge elections? Why are people not more civically engaged? How do we actually enhance and create a better democracy? These are the conversations that we as the governing body of the city should be leading and this what this resolution is about – having that conversation. And we don’t know what recommendations might come back,” added Crowson.
Councillor John Middleton-Hope supported the motion, saying he takes the result of the ballot question “as a clear indication the public wants us to explore this and explore it fully. Whether or not it’s prepared for 2025-26 when the next election comes is another matter; it may take longer than that. And we may not go in that direction.
“We are trying to achieve an examination of a process that is used widely across Canada. It is not necessarily a better process but it is a different process, and for some that difference is a challenge.
He said the work done by Hilford and her staff has done is commendable and “I think this moves us in the right direction.”

Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter

Share this story:

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments