Changing council’s composition will simply cost more money

Opinion leaders in Red Deer have taken a look at the city’s growth and are suggesting city councillors ought to represent distinct parts of the city, rather than the city as a whole.

Opinion leaders in Red Deer have taken a look at the city’s growth and are suggesting city councillors ought to represent distinct parts of the city, rather than the city as a whole.

So in addition to casting your ballot for mayor, councillors and school boards on Oct. 21, you will also be asked to vote Yes or No on adopting a ward system for future councils.

For my part, I’m skeptical the change would do us much good at this point in our city’s development.

Electing city councillors on the basis of two per ward, rather than eight in a group, in my view, solves problems that we don’t have yet. And creating electoral divisions in the city could well create problems that we don’t need.

This current election has been a challenge for voters, sifting through this record number of candidates. But if one pays attention, one can still find four, six or eight individuals you believe make a good fit for the job.

After all, a whole lot of people here manage to sort through the entire NHL roster of players to construct their hockey pools, so asking people to pay enough attention to their own homes and their own city over the course of a month-long campaign is not asking too much.

Nor is it asking too much of a city councillor to wrap one’s mind around the makeup of our city, over the course of four years.

I do acknowledge that Red Deer has indeed evolved cultural and social differences, based in part on our regions.

Our central area is residentially and economically different than our neighbourhoods around the perimeter. The northwest corner of our city has a different feel than the southeast.

West Park — Red Deer’s first suburb — is evolving into a city centre type of neighbourhood. Different regions, different ways that people live their lives.

But no one area of Red Deer has as yet been so overlooked — or is so fundamentally different from the others — that it needs specialized representation on city council.

In fact, the simple act of drawing lines on a map might make perceived differences a concrete rule. Lines do divide. This leads to my major concern with a ward system: that we will not get that any better representation on a city council, just more costly representation.

One ward gets a street upgrade, a rec centre or an outdoor rink, and the representatives of the ward on the other side of the city will have to get one, too. Not out of demonstrated need but out of “fairness.”

Ward seats will very quickly be determined by which candidate can promise the most to their region, not for what’s best for the city as a whole. That’s not the goal of a ward system but in politics, it is the result.

The result is competition, winners and losers — and council effectiveness based on who is able to negotiate for their re-election in one zone of the city, not the city as a whole. For our size of city, it’s not the most cost-efficient way to conduct business.

Red Deer will probably need ward divisions in the future, when stellar growth in some zones creates an unfair advantage for services that are also needed in zones that had built the fundamentals for that growth. If an older neighbourhood doesn’t get needed repairs or transit routes, a crime prevention program or recreation facilities, it becomes what council makes it.

My vote will ask our next city council to look forward to the day wards are needed, but not to assume it has already arrived.

• One more short election comment on mayoral candidate Tara Veer’s platform of rebranding Red Deer as a “City of Choice.”

Red Deer is certainly my choice already. But Veer knows that work to rebrand the city has officially been under way for quite some time now. Red Deer’s identity is one of the pillars of our charter program, and council has been working on that for years.

A whole lot of staff hours and expenses have already been spent on this charter, which is being made ready to present to the new council after Oct. 21. So just what are we doing here?

City of Choice makes a great sound bite, but is Veer suggesting we throw out work that’s already been done, before we’re even able to see a report for our money? Or are we remaking the Identity Charter in a particular image, to take credit for work that’s already been done?

City of Choice. I like it. But for my money, I want to see what the work on the charter has produced first.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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