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

Red Deer church donates to Safe Harbour

It was all about helping those in need at Safe Harbour in… Continue reading

Former firefighter with PTSD sues Syncrude over suspended benefits, dismissal

CALGARY — A lawsuit filed by a former firefighter and paramedic against… Continue reading

Call for tighter bail rules after Saudi sex-crime suspect vanishes

HALIFAX — Mohammed Zuraibi Alzoabi may have hoped to quietly disappear from… Continue reading

Democrats aren’t buying Trump’s shutdown-ending ‘compromise’

WASHINGTON — In a bid to break the shutdown stalemate, President Donald… Continue reading

Updated: Red Deer welcomes 2019 Canada Winter Games Team Alberta

About 250 Alberta athletes are participating in the Games

Students seen mocking Native Americans could face expulsion

One 11-minute video of the confrontation shows the Haka dance and students loudly chanting

Curtain rising Sunday night on total lunar eclipse

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The celestial curtain will be rising soon on… Continue reading

At 30-day mark, shutdown logjam remains over border funding

WASHINGTON — Thirty days into the partial government shutdown, Democrats and Republicans… Continue reading

Holocaust victims buried after remains found in UK museum

LONDON — The remains of six unidentified Holocaust victims were buried in… Continue reading

Giuliani: ‘So what’ if Trump and Cohen discussed testimony

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani left open Sunday the… Continue reading

Photos: Rocks fly at 37th Annual Oilmen’s Bonspiel

Twenty-nine teams gathered at the Pidherney Curling Centre in Red Deer for… Continue reading

Death toll reaches 79 in Mexico fuel pipeline fire horror

TLAHUELILPAN, Mexico — People in the town where a gasoline explosion killed… Continue reading

With Trump out, Davos chief eyes fixing world architecture

DAVOS, Switzerland — The founder of the World Economic Forum says U.S.… Continue reading

Mexican pipeline explosion kills 71, leaves nightmare of ash

TLAHUELILPAN, Mexico — Gerardo Perez returned Saturday to the scorched field in… Continue reading

Most Read