Conversation with Jordy Smith, about Wards and Gasoline Alley?

From: Jordy Smith
To: gjmarks
Sent: Mon, 09 Oct 2017 14:02:40 -0600 (MDT)
Subject: Re: Missed opportunities and possibles?

Thanks for the thoughts, Garfield:
I’ve been observing and studying to find out what Red Deer needs to do if we are to retain residences and businesses from moving to Gasoline Alley. The main thing I keep on finding is how we need to make our city into a more appealing destination in and of itself. Making the Hazlett Lake area into a district with amenities, shopping, etc, is a fantastic idea and one we should go with.
One thing I noticed regarding the conversation of how to keep businesses from moving to Gasoline Alley is how little of an advantage Red Deer has over it. Think about it, many candidates have said that businesses will come to Red Deer because we are in a prime location between Edmonton and Calgary… but so is Gasoline Alley. Some say we will attract more businesses because we have an airport (which is county owned), or because we may be getting a University, but Gasoline Alley can take advantage of these opportunities as well. The only advantage Red Deer has is through developing more high density destination locations like Hazlett Lake.
What are your thoughts on our ‘advantages’ over Gasoline Alley?

Thanks, Garfield:
As you may know, I am in favour of ward system. I have already written extensively on the subject. Here I will include the short Facebook article I wrote entitled, “A Case for Wards.”

When you hear the word ‘wards’ what do you think? Some people picture prison wards, some think of hospital wards, and many don’t know what to think. In this context, wards are districts city councilors represent at City Hall. Places such as Calgary and Edmonton have 12-14 wards, while other locations such as Red Deer and Lethbridge have none. In the latter examples, these cities have at-large elections where everybody votes for multiple candidates according to the number of seats available. (For example, Red Deer has eight council seats, so each voter selects a maximum of eight people.) Red Deer has always used this at-large system for elections, but I advocate for switching to a ward system.
Wards provide direct representation within the city council. They allow anyone who sees an issue in the city to go to their particular councilor and voice their concern. In this situation, the councilor ensures the person’s, and their district’s, voice is heard. If they don’t represent their community well, their constituents can vote for a new councilor in the next election. In our current system, a person can reach out to some or all of Red Deer’s councilors, but if the issue isn’t prevalent across the entire city, it is unlikely to enter the council meeting. Important neighbourhood issues may take a backseat to other matters in distant parts of the city. This scenario isn’t always a problem in at-large systems, but it often favours certain parts of a city more than others. This issue is especially true when a majority of councillors all live in a similar part of the city. In Red Deer, seven of our eight councillors live on the South-East side of the river; in fact, many of our past councils have had disproportionate representation from the South-East side. A ward system gives each part of Red Deer direct representation and a voice in council decisions.
A ward system facilitates a simplified election process for citizens. We have 29 people running for city council; this is the second highest number of candidates the city has ever had (the most was the 2013 election with 30 candidates). Having 29 candidates means every citizen must research and understand the positions of 29 different people to make an informed decision. The sheer amount of options encourages voters to pick people they know, names they recognize, or randomly selected candidates. These reasons for voting aren’t good for our democratic process because they put popularity ahead of platforms and solutions. In comparison, citizens of Calgary only have to consider, at most, nine councillor candidates; Edmontonians only need to research, at the most, 13. Each Red Deer citizen needs to be aware of over twice as many candidates than the two largest cities in Alberta! Wards simplify the election process for citizens, ensuring the most qualified candidates are selected based on the issues and solutions they bring.
Lastly, wards help prevent underqualified candidates with certain advantages to win elections. It takes a strong campaign for candidates to run successfully, and the at-large system makes it more challenging. In a ward system, every candidate only campaigns within their district; this contrasts an at-large system where a candidate must reach the entire city. The at-large system gives two types of candidates an advantage: incumbents, and those with financial resources. Incumbents are current councilors who are running for another term; their advantage comes from successfully running in previous elections. They already have signs, name recognition, more opportunities to talk with the press, and strong networking connections. None of these are bad, but it makes it difficult for new candidates with great ideas to win against incumbents who have already been on council for two, three, or four terms. Candidates with financial resources also have an advantage; they can mobilize and advertise their campaign to the entire city in a short period. Contrast this with other potentially great candidates who don’t have the resources to bring their message to a city of 100,000. Now, the best financial support comes from interest groups; often they have a particular agenda, so they back the candidate who helps them achieve it. This situation is problematic because it allows candidates to be elected whose interests are tied to their financiers, rather than the city. A candidate who lacks these advantages is unlikely to win, even if they are the best person for the position. Wards make it easier for candidates to run; they don’t require as many resources because they only compete in their ward. The incumbents still have some advantage, but the smaller community creates a more even competition.
Some argue Red Deer is too small to have wards, but cities such as Brandon, Manitoba, and other smaller cities in Ontario have had wards for decades. Others believe ward systems make city council more divisive and less focused on the city as a whole. Red Deer can resolve this concern by adopting a three or four-ward system, each with multiple councillors. This idea gives each ward more representation on the council, and encourages councillors to consider more than just one-eighth of the city when making decisions.
Every city begins with an at-large system. With it, Red Deer has grown to its current size. Our councillors work well with each other, making the city a better place. But Red Deer is facing new challenges, and developing wards is a part of overcoming them.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

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