Red Deer City council has opted to not hold a plebiscite on a ward system in tandem with the fall municipal election.
Councillors Frank Wong, Buck Buchanan and Chris Stephan brought forward a Notice of Motion at this week’s meeting regarding holding a plebiscite on the issue.
“I have my own personal opinion on the ward system. I’m not necessarily sure that it’s the best system we could have, but I’m certainly not adverse to asking the public what their thoughts on it are,” said Buchanan, adding that if it’s what voters want, council must consider it.
“We don’t have to be afraid or concerned about it. It’s just to see what people want.”
Councillor Dianne Wyntjes said she had mixed feelings on the issue. She also questioned what was different now than back in April when council opted to maintain the at-large system.
“For me, the question right now is this the time? In four or five years, we might be there. I guess if it were to go to plebiscite, I would show my cards and I would tell the citizens from my discussions with councillors in ward systems, I prefer representation at-large,” she said. “I see us as looking at our City as a whole. I like that we don’t see it as ‘my area’ or ‘my territory.’ We make our decisions representing the City.”
Councillor Lynne Mulder said she wasn’t convinced a plebiscite was the way to go.
“I would like the public to be a little bit more informed. I’d like a bit more opportunity to discuss it with them then to just put it to a plebiscite.
“I think it’s too important of an issue for our City for just a yes/no answer,” she said.
“Obviously it’s a difficult issue, but that’s where I stand right now.”
Councillor Paul Harris said it wasn’t a “burning issue” for the people he has spoken with about it. He said more pressing issues that people are pointing to these days run the gamut from concerns over crime, policing and the business climate to park improvements, potholes, transit issues and culture.
“I feel that a ward system, and going to a plebiscite, would create a dialogue in the community about things that aren’t that important to us as a whole,” he said. “The comments I’ve received from citizens in our community steer me to say no to a plebiscite, and steer me to say what is it that we should be talking about that is most important?”
Buchanan said it’s not that he doesn’t believe an at-large system isn’t a good system, it’s about asking the public what they think about a ward system in general.
He noted that plebiscite results aren’t binding, but at least council would know how the public is gauging the concept. “Let’s give people the opportunity to say ‘Yes we do’ or ‘No we don’t.’ If they don’t, that’s fine. I’m absolutely comfortable with that,” he said adding there are many communities smaller than Red Deer that have that kind of system.
“Give the people that opportunity. Have some faith in the public,” he said. “That’s where I stand on it.”