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Councillors want plebiscite on ward system for city

Three city councillors want to give Red Deer citizens the chance to decide whether they want a municipal ward system.

Red Deer councillors Frank Wong, Buck Buchanan and Chris Stephan are introducing a motion at the Jan. 21 city council meeting asking that a question about switching to electoral wards be put to a plebiscite on the 2013 Red Deer municipal election ballot.

Wong believes allowing the public to decide on this next October will be both cost-effective and timely.

“There have been people inquiring about (ward representation) over the last two or three terms, but we keep sloughing it off,” said Wong, as it’s always seen as arising at the wrong time — either just before or after an election.

The question of whether to switch to electoral wards was last voted down by city council on April 30 by a 6-3 margin. But Wong noted there was no public consultation, so he doesn’t believe this has settled the matter.

“There are still quite a few instances where people feel they have not been represented properly,” said Wong, who recalled one West Park resident expressing frustration about who to approach about a neighbourhood issue. He recalled the man saying, “Because we don’t have a ward system, who cares about West Park?”

A similar sentiment was repeated by another constituent from North Red Deer, whose Central Park property off Hwy 11A was recently annexed by the city.

Since Red Deer County has a ward system, Wong said the man was used to dealing with a particular county councillor, who he felt listened to his concerns. He didn’t feel as well represented by various Red Deer city councillors who, again, had no specific knowledge of issues in his area.

Wong said he believes in the ward system for the same reasons many constituents do.

Wong is now the only Red Deer city councillor who lives north of the Red Deer River. He believes this area, with 35,000 residents, has been historically under-represented with schools and recreational facilities, such as hockey rinks.

“We would be the ninth biggest municipality in Alberta if we were separate,” said Wong, who believes the ward system would ensure that this part of Red Deer had councillors with first-hand knowledge of those neighbourhoods.”

Buchanan said on Monday a plebiscite is non-binding and it will give council a clear direction of what citizens want. He said they did the same thing with fluoride but it didn’t go to a ballot.

“If people suggest we should in fact have a ward system then let’s go back and take a look at it,” said Buchanan. “I have some mixed feelings in regards to it. I have some things I absolutely like about it but some I think are not as good as the system we have.”

Stephan was out of town on Wednesday.

But Wong said he hopes Red Deer citizens who believe in the ward system will make their opinions known to council through phone calls, emails and letters before the plebiscite discussion goes to council on Jan. 21.

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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