While City council ultimately chose not to further evaluate a ward system at this time, most councillors agree it is an option for the future.
Deputy City Clerk Frieda McDougall presented to council some potential options regarding how a ward system could work in Red Deer.
“There are three main systems at play to choose from including the current elected at large system, a ward system, or a mixed system which essentially has four council members elected by ward and four elected at large,” said McDougall.
Some of the advantages of the current elected at large system include the fact that council views the City’s needs as a whole, can concentrate on Citywide issues and it is administratively simple.
Disadvantages of the current at large system include some minority groups feeling under represented, campaigns are more expensive and the feeling that ordinary citizens can run is reduced.
McDougall pointed out that there are advantages to the ward system as well including the fact there is a great balance of representation, bringing politics closer to the community, people knowing more about their candidate and holding councillors more accountable.
Disadvantages too were listed for the ward system some being there are divisions in a municipality, councillors worry only about their ward and not the whole City and that ideal wards are impossible to achieve.
McDougall also said that the budget would be impacted in the long run if a ward system were chosen because even simple things like ballot printing would be more expensive.
Options presented included affirming the current at large system, a two-ward system with four councillors from each representing about 45,000 people, a three ward system with an increase to nine councillors or decrease to six resulting in two or three councillors for each ward representing 30,500 people each or a four ward system with two councillors per ward representing 22,000 people each.
Council showed some mixed feelings regarding the possible change with many of them saying that they have in fact heard from the public that it is a desired change, but that maybe right now is not the right time.
“I think it would be to our benefit to discuss this and move on. Not to say that this would be forever but at this time it is probably best for the community,” said Councillor Cindy Jefferies.
She added that even during and after the next election she is sure they will hear more desire from the community about moving to a ward system.
“I simply don’t hear that as being an issue as loud and clear as other things like potholes and roads,” said Jefferies.
Councillor Buck Buchanan said the system that is currently in place is a good system but that he too has heard from the public the desire to move to a ward system.
“I like our system now but I’m just one person in ninety-some thousand,” said Buchanan.
Councillor Lynne Mulder said when the time becomes appropriate the choice does need to be made by the public at which point a plebiscite could be used.
“But that time is not right now. Where we are right now in terms of establishing our vision with our strategic plan we need the collective wisdom of all council and the community to focus on priority issues,” said Mulder.
The motion passed to remain with the current at large electoral system with Councillors Buchanan, Frank Wong and Chris Stephan opposed.