Plebiscite on ward system in the works for fall election

  • Mar. 20, 2013 3:45 p.m.

Red Deerians will be able to have their say regarding a potential ward system in the City via a plebiscite question in this fall’s municipal election.

City council gave the green light to reconsideration of a Notice of Motion regarding the implementation of a municipal ward system at this week’s meeting.

In early February, council had opted to not hold a plebiscite on a ward system in tandem with the election.

This week, Councillors Lynne Mulder and Paul Harris introduced a Notice of Motion for an amendment to the dialogue charter to include exploration of systems of representation.

That was followed by a request by Councillors Dianne Wyntjes and Tara Veer to introduce a motion to reconsider the Notice of Motion introduced by Councillors Buck Buchanan, Frank Wong and Chris Stephan late last year regarding implementation of a ward system. Council debated the issue early in February but had ultimately defeated the motion.

In the course of discussion on Monday, Councillor Cindy Jefferies said she wasn’t convinced a plebiscite was the way to go.

“This discussion, the idea of changing from our current at-large system to a ward system is a huge discussion for our community. It’s very, very important. It’s certainly not something that any of us takes lightly, and nor should the citizens.”

She said a number of people have been telling her council has more important work to do, and that while the community needs to have a fuller discussion on a ward system.

“I think the best way to resolve the issue is to have a full-on discussion and dialogue, and a plebiscite perhaps doesn’t do that for me. I’m comfortable with the decision council has made and will not support the motion to reconsider.”

Council however did move ahead with the motion to reconsider, thereby opening the door for discussing the merits of a plebiscite on a ward system.

Wyntjes said opting for a plebiscite would provide ample opportunity for discussions on the issue prior to the Oct. 21 election.

“I’ve been hearing from a number of people who want that vote so they can have their say about continuing with the current system of representation at large or others have indicated their preference to having a ward system,” she said.

She said she felt it was in council’s best interest to help settle the issue. “I believe it would be best to bring it to the citizens.

“For me, the ballot box is one of the best indicators for community opinion.”

Stephan said he agreed about encouraging more community dialogue, but felt that council had been getting consistent feedback on the ward system issue for some time.

“There’s also a lot of people who don’t necessarily agree with a ward system, but they do agree that the community should have a say on it through the plebiscite,” he said. “I will bring this up in six months if we don’t deal with this because I believe it’s on the public’s radar.”

But Jefferies pointed out that while some say it’s not the City’s responsibility to educate the public on the issue of a plebiscite, she said she wants voters to make a fully informed decision about what they are voting on. “I think we have some responsibility to ensure they have access to education and information on both sides of the issue, or all sides of the issue if there are more than two sides.

“So it becomes a little more complex in my view,” she said.

”I don’t see it as a yes/no question. I think we need to have a fuller discussion of the issue. I think the Notice of Motion that Paul Harris and Lynne Mulder brought forward earlier certainly goes a long way to starting that discussion.”

Stephan, Veer, Mayor Morris Flewwelling, Wyntjes and Wong voted in favour of adding the plebiscite question. Harris, Mulder and Jefferies against it. Councillor Buck Buchanan was absent.

Wyntjes said she believed a plebiscite question this fall would be cost-effective at this time.

“No matter the outcome, it will give to the next council a measure of that public opinion which I think is really important in moving ahead over the next four years,” she said.

“I’m a firm believer that we must always trust the community. And no matter which side this ends up on, I’m trusting the community and I do think it’s in the best interests that we bring in this question as a plebiscite this fall.”

Ultimately, council directed administration to bring a report back outlining the costs and plans connected to the communication and educational aspects on wards in the fall election.

Council is set to receive that report in six weeks.