Phil Hyde

A city that plans needs a ward system

With the municipal election at hand, voters are busy trying to determine who stands for what, and who would be best to take our city forward, while candidates want to reduce voter apathy and engage citizens.

Letter writers are angry about the proliferation of election signs and their assault on the senses and our environment. Are there ways to reduce the large corner displays of signage and simultaneously make it easier for electors to generate an informed vote?

This is a City that plans. Together our citizens, elected representatives and administration frequently work together to plan for balanced service provision throughout the city. Every City department has planned using this model, which continues to ensure stable, planned, thoughtful development as Red Deer grows.

The one glaring exception to this exemplary planning model is found in planning our future City Councils. Not only does shared planning not occur in this area, discussions on it are rebuffed. I say we need shared planning and better citizen engagement in all aspects of city life, which can be effectively done through a ward system.

A ward system would evenly divide our city into specific, balanced areas to elect councilors, as opposed to the current system of voting for councilors at large. Planning in our city is done using the “ward system” model all the time, dividing the City into sectors for Emergency Services delivery, policing, commercial development, even recreational services. Our city services are delivered very effectively using this model. Why not our City Council?

The benefits of a ward system are many. Council candidates would have more time to meet their constituents one-on-one. Councilor election signs would be greatly reduced. Ward councilors would be better able to understand the needs in their ward, since they live in that area, and citizens would have more access to their elected official and could help more with city planning. Ward representatives would also be more available to their constituents to discuss “whole city” issues and discuss Council decisions.

This does not happen effectively under our current system.

The current council says we aren’t big enough. Current Council wisdom also says that a non-ward Council is better able to set direction for the city as a whole, but that argument holds no water. If that type of structure were more effective, the City administration would not rely on departments with specific scopes and areas of responsibility to get things done, they would all do everything together.

Every successful private company and every municipality relies on sectioning out areas of responsibility that interact to bring success to the whole. The ward system offers opportunity to increase efficiency and develop stronger grass-roots community ties.

It may be harder to get elected in a ward system. If a candidate campaigns on a certain platform not of priority in their ward, or if those who are closest to them don’t find them a good neighbor, their chances of being elected are diminished.

Perhaps that is what it’s really about for the current council, keeping a relative distance from the elector while improving the odds of staying in power.

I say that incumbency does not necessarily translate into competency, and that resisting improvements such as the ward system may well be more about maintaining a “career” rather than serving the community. We need fresh faces, new ideas, and more access to our municipal representatives.

So I ask the candidates: “If elected, will you support the appointment of a citizen’s ad hoc committee, to make recommendations on a ward system in the second year of your mandate to be implemented before our next municipal election?”

It is time for our elected officials to awaken to the need to change our system to a ward system for the benefit of our city and we the people.

This is only one opinion, but it’s mine. (Shared by many)

Phil Hyde is a Red Deer businessman who has a long history involved in civic affairs, including past chairman of the Red Deer Emergency Services Master Planning Committee and the Red Deer Policing Committee.

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