Red Deer residents will go to a plebiscite on a municipal ward system in conjunction with the Oct. 21 municipal election.
In an unusual move, Red Deer council reconsidered a Feb. 4 decision to reject a plebiscite on a ward system on Monday night.
Council voted 5-3 in support of adding a question regarding ward systems on the next civic ballot. Mayor Morris Flewwelling and Councillors Frank Wong, Dianne Wyntjes, Tara Veer and Chris Stephan were in favour. Councillors Paul Harris, Cindy Jefferies and Lynne Mulder were opposed. Coun. Buck Buchanan was absent.
Coun. Frank Wong said he was surprised the vote went through because Buchanan was absent. The three councillors had put the original motion for a plebiscite to council in February.
“People have wanted to have a say for the last nine years,” said Wong. “We’re going to move forward. Who knows? It may be against having a ward system but at least we listened to people and they will have their say.”
The reconsideration came on the heels of Councillors Lynne Mulder and Paul Harris’ successful motion to amend the dialogue charter, a major work plan looking at community engagement, to explore systems of representation including wards with the goal of how the community could be best represented by council.
Council may reconsider decisions if there are special and exceptional circumstances.
Mulder said her initial vote of no to a plebiscite on Feb. 4 was not meant in anyway to stifle public input. She said this is a very important decision that warrants a comprehensive understanding of what the problems they are trying to solve so they can find the right solutions for Red Deer.
Mulder and Harris both reiterated the importance of understanding the issues and concerns behind the debate between a ward and at-large system. They said that way council would understand the nature of the problem in order for councillors to make the best decisions for the community.
“I want to be really clear to the public,” said Mulder. “I am not opposed to hearing from them. In fact, I want to hear more from them. I think this reduces the question to a level to a yes or no answer when it is a very large and important issue. I am not opposed to a plebiscite if that’s what we need. I’m not in favour of one at this time.”
Councillors Dianne Wyntjes and Tara Veer wanted to take the motion a step further. Wyntjes said after a decision is made you always hear chatter on both sides in the community.
By adding a question to the ballot, Wyntjes said this will allow for ample conversations over the next seven months.
“I often believe politicians can and should change their minds based on additional feedback,” said Wyntjes. “I always believed the question of ward or not to ward is not a decision to be made by mayor and council in this room … For me the ballot box is one of the best indicators of community opinion.”
Wyntjes added the decision complements the other motion adding wards to the dialogue charter. City council directed administration to come back with a report within six weeks outlining the costs, plans and education and awareness strategy.