Warding off talk of wards

Red Deer city council has rarely looked as self-serving and insular as it does today, after refusing to revisit the issue of creating an electoral ward system. On Monday, council rejected a proposal by three councillors — Chris Stephan, Frank Wong and Buck Buchanan — to conduct a plebiscite about shifting to a ward-based council. The plebiscite would have been held in conjunction with the Oct. 21 municipal election.

Red Deer city council has rarely looked as self-serving and insular as it does today, after refusing to revisit the issue of creating an electoral ward system.

On Monday, council rejected a proposal by three councillors — Chris Stephan, Frank Wong and Buck Buchanan — to conduct a plebiscite about shifting to a ward-based council. The plebiscite would have been held in conjunction with the Oct. 21 municipal election.

Calling a plebiscite, with a clearly defined question on creating a ward system, would have spawned a healthy, robust — and long overdue — public conversation about the proposal.

Instead, council moved to kill the idea — again.

It was the second time in less than a year that council has turned away from the issue. Last April, council voted 6-3 to maintain the status quo, rejecting a discussion about a ward system. On the recommendation of city staff, the majority of councillors decided that the current at-large system creates a council that is more plugged into broader issues, resulting in decision making driven by the greater good.

Why regional interests can’t be considered when examining the greater good remains a mystery, as is why council is convinced that future ward-elected members would be unable or unwilling to broaden their perspectives when necessary.

But just because council doesn’t want to talk further about the issue, nor consider a plebiscite on the matter, does that mean citizens should abandon the notion of electing councillors by region?

Absolutely not.

Alberta’s Municipal Government Act clearly outlines how citizens can force a plebiscite on an issue: through a petition signed by at least 10 per cent of adult citizens of a municipality.

The petition signatures must be gathered with scrupulous care. The accuracy required to avoid having a petition refused by council is stringent.

But a properly rendered petition puts the power to dictate discussion on an issue in the hands of the people. A clearly worded petition can force council to have citizens vote on either a proposed bylaw or on an explicit question. And then there can be no quibbling later about intent.

Although council still makes the ultimate decision on whether to enact a bylaw, forcing the matter forward, particularly if it carries majority weight from the electorate, can leave little wiggle room for council.

There is no guarantee that Red Deerians would be best served by introducing a ward system to elect councillors.

But the advantages and disadvantages of moving away from an at-large system certainly deserve widespread discourse.

By refusing to endorse a plebiscite on the issue, city council on Monday clearly demonstrated that they don’t believe there is any place for a public discussion on the issue, at least not now.

Too many other issues are of greater importance, they say. They don’t want to be distracted by a discussion about wards.

But exactly how distracting do they think a public conversation about a ward system would be?

Surely council could encourage growth and examine the potential for change without becoming overwhelmed by the debate.

And surely councillors understand that the meat of this discussion would take place in the weeks before Oct. 21, not now while they are addressing those more pressing issues.

There’s something fundamentally undemocratic about elected officials deciding in a vacuum how they will be elected.

And there’s something more than a little odd about not being willing to at least ask the public a question about wards during a planned spring survey.

This week, the provincial government announced that it was reviewing the Conflicts of Interest Act, as it relates to members of the legislature. The goal, to ensure that “elected representatives . . . act ethically and perform their duties with the highest level of integrity,” according to Mike Allen, chair of the Select Special Conflicts of Interest Act Review Committee, is worth noting for all elected officials, not just MLAs.

“Often it is not an action but rather the public perception of that action that can raise questions about a member’s conduct,” Allen said.

The same holds true for city councillors. And right now, plenty of Red Deer citizens have a tainted perception of the actions of city council.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

Just Posted

Tail Creek Raceway near Alix has been approved for another five years by Lacombe County.
(Photo from Tail Creek Raceways Facebook page)
Raceway near Alix approved for five more years

Tail Creek Raceways hopes to run first races June 19-20

In this Monday, March 15, 2021 file photo a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is pictured in a pharmacy in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris. Questions remained Wednesday about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Canada, as Manitoba limited use of the shot and Ontario announced it planned to save an incoming shipment to use as second doses.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Christophe Ena, File
Alberta could receive 76,500 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine next week

Alberta should be getting a large shipment of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine… Continue reading

An anti-lockdown protest went ahead outside a café in central Alberta on Saturday, despite pouring rain and a pre-emptive court injunction. (Photo by The Canadian Press)
RCMP investigating online threats made against officers who were at central Alberta protest

Online images purportedly showing officers attending weekend rally at Mirror in rifle crosshairs

Bowden Institution Black Press file photo
Bowden Institution inmate dies from COVID-19 complications

Bowden death the sixth in Canada’s federal prison system

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer and several members of city council helped kick off the spring Green Deer cleanup campaign on Wednesday. Veer said city workers do their best to keep the city looking good, but need volunteer help to get rid of litter that has blown into bushes onto road sides over the winter. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)
Red Deer city councillors launch spring Green Deer campaign

Volunteers are needed to keep the city looking good

Adam Feller reacts as he gets his Pfizer-BioNTech shot at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Thursday, May 13, 2021, in Montreal. Quebec has become the latest province to stop giving Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot as a first dose.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Ontario keeps stay-at-home order; Quebec pauses Oxford-AstraZeneca shots

Ontario has announced it’s keeping its stay-at-home order in place until at… Continue reading

The flag of the Supreme Court of Canada flies outside the building following a ceremony in Ottawa, Monday March 15, 2021. The owners of a horse that was disqualified after initially winning the Canadian Derby more than three years ago might have run out of legal room to reclaim the title. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Supreme Court won’t hear appeal from horse owners over derby dispute

OTTAWA — The owners of a horse that was disqualified after initially… Continue reading

People take part in a protest called 'Justice for Joyce' in Montreal, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, where they demanded justice for Joyce Echaquan and an end to systemic racism. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Quebec coroner’s inquest into death of Joyce Echaquan begins as her family testifies

MONTREAL — The husband of an Indigenous woman who was subjected to… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, centre, speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, May 11, 2021, at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Quebec tables revamp of French-language law, toughens rules for businesses, schools

MONTREAL — The Quebec government reasserted the right of Quebecers to live… Continue reading

Permanent residency
Canada announces new pathway to permanent residency for families of crash victims

Ottawa is launching a new policy to help the families of victims… Continue reading

Co-founders Craig (left) and Marc Kielburger introduce Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau as they appear at the WE Day celebrations in Ottawa on November 10, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Ethics watchdog: PM didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity, but Morneau did

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not breach the Conflict of… Continue reading

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore, center, celebrates after scoring a goal against the Columbus Crew with teammates from left, forward Tsubasa Endoh, defender Omar Gonzalez and forward Patrick Mullins during the second half of an MLS soccer match, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Bradley, Altidore scores in Toronto FC’s 2-0 win over Crew

ORLANDO, Fla (AP) — Michael Bradley had a goal and an assist,… Continue reading

A football with the CFL logo sits on a chair during a press conference in Winnipeg, Friday, November 27, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Former defensive lineman Klassen tackling retirement as he did opposing quarterbacks

Klassen spent seven CFL seasons with Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa

Most Read