Why wards make sense
If anything is telling about whether Red Deer should go to a ward system, it’s the record-breaking number of candidates in this municipal election.
In Edmonton, which does operate on a ward system instead of an at-large system like Red Deer, the most number of candidates that electors have to deal with in a given ward is 16. But for the most part, each of their 12 wards have four or five candidates, or less.
In Calgary, the most councillor candidates in any of the 14 wards is five. In fact, the nine candidates for mayor in that city outnumber any of the wards.
Today, Red Deer city council runs on an at-large system where each of the eight councillors and the mayor represents the entire city as a whole, rather than any particular part of the city.
This brings me to the Red Deer municipal election plebiscite on a ward system come Oct. 21.
It’s a rare thing that a plebiscite is included in a municipal election in this city. Plebiscites present an opportunity for city council to gather direct voter input on certain issues. While their results are not binding — council takes into account the direction given in its future decisions.
A near-tie in the ward system plebiscite will likely result in no near-future ward system for Red Deer. But a strong vote for or against should be council’s lead to move ahead or leave the idea alone.
The question on the ward system will be: Do you want the city of Red Deer divided into wards?
Voters will select one of these two questions: Yes, I want to be able to vote for the candidates who run in the area I live in (my ward); or: No, I want to keep voting for candidates for the whole city, not just the area where I live.
I will be answering “yes” for several reasons.
In this election, we have 30 candidates running for one of eight councillor positions. While it’s great to have so many people willing to take the plunge, it’s simply unmanageable for voters to get a good feel with so many candidates.
Break them into five or six wards (some with perhaps more than one seat) for example, and everything changes. Voters have a much better chance of evaluating the candidates and getting to know them better.
Would you prefer to attend a candidate forum where there are five or six candidates, or 30?
I believe it to be a smarter vote today to have a ward system. And with Red Deer almost at 100,000 population, I believe that councillors can better represent their community when they understand and focus more on particular issues in particular areas.
The mayor would remain in essence an “at large” representative of the city.
A ward system won’t preclude the greater good because often council decisions are based on that all-important factor — The Bottom Line.
One misconception about a ward system is that only people who live in the ward will be able to run in that ward. It’s not true and that’s good. Anyone, wherever he or she lives in Red Deer, would be able to run in any ward. After all, we do all live in the same city.
I also believe a ward system would generate more interest in municipal elections and help hold councillors more accountable — the latter being a common theme in every election in the history of democracy.
I would be against an electoral system that could include a mixture of at-large and ward councillors. It just complicates things for voters. Voter turnout is already in fragile territory.
Keep it simple and bring on a ward system.
Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.