Red Deer rejects ward system
Red Deer voters have decisively rejected switching to a ward system, with 71.7 per cent of plebiscite respondents preferring to maintain an at-large voting system.
With 46 of 46 polls reported on Monday evening, 13,314 voted against a ward system; 5,240 voted for it.
The ballot question, part of the municipal election, asked voters if they wanted to divide the city into wards or to maintain the status quo and keep the at-large voting system, which allows voters to select up to eight councillors.
City Coun. Frank Wong was one of the three councillors who brought the question forward, Chris Stephan and Buck Buchanan were the other two.
“We keep bragging we embrace change,” said Wong. “We actually are chicken, we don’t embrace change.
“We’re not very progressive.”
He pointed to numerous Ontario cities smaller than Red Deer that have ward systems and Brandon, Man. Frustrated by the result, Wong wasn’t sure if there was much point in pursuing wards going forward.
Coun. Lynne Mulder voted against including the plebiscite on the ballot.
“I’m not against the ward system, but I don’t think we’re there yet,” said Mulder. “I don’t think we’re a big enough city.
“I would hate to see us lose focus on the larger vision and become focused on potholes in each little ward.”
Although she was happy with the outcome, she said the debate hasn’t ended yet, saying it could resurface as an issue eight years from now during another election year.
“It never will be, because as we get larger we will need a ward system,” said Mulder. “It won’t be the end of it.”
The ballot question almost never happened as council initially rejected putting it on the ballot six to three.
Garfield Marks started a petition to include the question and started a group, Let us Vote, aimed at including the ward question on the ballot.
He said the group succeeded in that people were given the option to vote on the topic.
“They said it was too complicated an issue for the public,” said Marks. “I think the numbers show that it’s not too complicated.”
Even though the ward system was rejected, he said the purpose of voting on the issue was to show the public needs to be involved. It shows we shouldn’t leave the public out when they make these big decisions.”
During the campaign, Dave Cournoyer, a political observer and blogger, spoke at a forum about the pros and cons of a ward system. He said numerous jurisdictions in Alberta have wards, citing counties, the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo as well as Calgary and Edmonton.
“There is no perfect answer and there is no perfect system,” said Cournoyer. “The ward system allows residents to have their own individual representative.
“Is Red Deer at the point where it needs to move to a ward system? It is a city verging on 100,000 people and the population is only going to continue to grow. It’s something Red Deerians just aren’t ready for at this point, but maybe they’ll be having this discussion later on.”