Red Deer city council voted against holding a plebiscite on a ward system during this fall’s civic election.
By a vote of 5-3, council rejected on Monday a motion brought forward by Councillors Frank Wong, Buck Buchanan and Chris Stephan to put a question about a ward voting system on the Oct. 21st municipal election ballot. Councillors said the timing is not right and there are bigger issues that need attention.
“Bigger picture issues have been put on the back burner because our community has been divided over issues like bike lanes and chickens,” said Coun. Tara Veer. “I think there is some community sentiment for a ward system or go to a plebiscite for a ward system.”
Veer said the city has received some letters in support and against ward systems but there has not been an compelling response in either direction. She would rather the city steady its focus to crime prevention, safety and financial sustainability.
Stephan, however, said there is an appetite in the community and the issue will come back in another six months becoming an election issue.
Stephan said residents should have a right to decide how they want to be governed which is an essential part of democracy.
Stephan unsuccessfully tried to put a ward question on this spring’s Ipso Reid Survey after the motion was defeated. Stephan said by not consulting the public, council is not keeping in the spirit of the dialogue charter.
“The struggle I see is people’s personal feelings have entered into the decision-making of why you support it and why you don’t,” said Stephan.
“I think we need to remove that.”
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes questioned what has changed since council affirmed keeping the existing at-large system in April 2012.
“If we ever go to plebiscite, that should be an issue that our citizens and voters decide,” said Wyntjes. “Is this the time? Yes in four or five years we may be there. If we go to a plebiscite, I will show citizens my card . . . I prefer representation at large.”
Buchanan said he has heard from the citizens that they are under represented and are not satisfied with the representation.
“People have said the question is how do we get better dialogue or better communication ?” said Buchanan.
“I know what I think but I would like to hear from other people.”
Coun. Paul Harris said other councillors may have heard this is a pressing issue in the community but he has heard more about the quality of life issue including crime, safety, park improvements, business climate, pot holes, transit.
“We need to work together and stand together to build this community,” said Harris. “I feel that a ward system and going to a plebiscite would create a dialogue in the community about things that aren’t important to us as a whole.”
Coun. Lynne Mulder said this is too big of an issue to be decided by checking ‘yes or no’ on a ballot. Mulder said she would like to hear more from the public about what they would like but she doesn’t think a plebiscite is the way to go.
“I believe we gave it careful thought last April,” said Mulder. “I don’t think anyone said we would never again look at whether a ward system would work. But we did say maybe it wasn’t the right time. I’m not convinced a plebiscite is the way to go. I certainly believe in public input.”
Coun. Cindy Jefferies was absent.