Incumbents and wealthy neighbourhoods prefer “at-large” – poorer prefer “Wards”

Red Deer keeps saying they want to be treated as a big city but campaign as a small town.
Elections for city councils are held through either a ward system or at-large system, depending on the location. Vancouver is the largest city in Canada to use the at-large system, while most other larger cities use wards.
Wards versus at large: Niagara Falls (population of 88,071),candidates discuss. If you want to get in the game, some say a ward system is helpful. … Now, more than a decade into an at-large system where eight councillors are elected to represent the entire city, some candidates are calling for a return to the ward system.
It may better represent the city, but some people find it confusing. One political scientist says we should consider bringing back the ward system with the civic election one week away.
A ward system, essentially, has an elected representative from varying neighbourhoods around the city.
Langara College political scientist Peter Prontzos says it’s a little more democratic and things won’t be rushed through council because there are more voices to be heard and more issues brought to the table.
But he warns there are cons.
“It may be a little more confusing in some ways and there may be occasional gridlock on city council, but I think that’s relatively minor.”
He says right now those who run for office are people with money who only represent wealthy neighbourhoods where something like public transit may not be issue.
Today, 8 out of the 9 current incumbent city councillors and mayor live south of the river and east of Gaetz.

This blog was posted on Todayville.com a year ago. How far off was I? Please read and consider next week’s vote and should we ask ourselves the same question now.

“At Large” versus “Ward” municipal governance.

A year from now, October 16, 2017 there will be a municipal election and the citizens of Red Deer will vote for (1) mayor, (8) city councillors, (7) public school trustees, and (5) separate school trustees.
Red Deer uses the “At Large” system for voting so you have the option of voting for all positions mayor, councillors and school trustees either public or separate. 16 spots or 14 spots respectively.
The last election in 2013 we had 5 people running for mayor, 30 people running for council, 14 people running for public school board and 7 people run for the separate school board, 56 people in total.
How many people can remember all the candidates, anyone? Let us make it easier. How many people can remember , everyone who won, anybody?
The huge advantage of the current “At Large” system falls to and gives advantage to the incumbents and then to the more wealthier campaigns,
It takes money to advertise to every household in the city, so naturally you will find that the wealthier candidates more often than not live in the wealthier neighbourhoods. It is less expensive and easier for the city staff and management to deal with councillors, at large, in bulk than it would be to deal with the ward system and on individual basis. There is I have been told less infighting among councillors, perhaps because they have more in common, under the at large system than under the ward system.
The advantage of the “Ward” system is that poorer neighbourhoods get equal representation. The citizens are closer to their elected officials and poorer candidates have smaller areas to cover. The city staff will have to refine their method of dealing with councillors in regards to neighbourhood issues.
There are pros and cons to both system, and we had a plebiscite on the issue during the 2013 municipal election. 71% voted to remain with the “At Large” system, feeling that Red Deer is still small enough to stay with this, the current system. The city council incumbents voted to budget $30,000 to inform the electorate of the issue, which was heavily in favor of the current system. They held an open house with a heavy leaning to the current system with just one local person, Larry Pimm, speaking a popular former councillor, known for and speaking for the “At Large” system.
I believe that by looking at the city today, the current system has systematically and historically failed one third of our city.
One third of our city lives north of the river and they are represented by 1 person out of 9 at city hall. Out of 7 indoor ice rinks and 4 aquatic centres in Red Deer, they have 1 north of the river and the latest buildings are being built or planned south of the river. When it comes to school boards, the city has, is building and planning 6 high schools, all on the south side and 5 high schools are unbelievably along 30 Avenue. So 1/3 of the population gets shafted and has been since merging with the city nearly 70 years ago.
Let us get back to voting. In 2013 we had 56 candidates for 21 spots and naturally most incumbents who ran won. How can anyone know and understand the positions of 56 candidates. Many would like one or 2 newcomers, vote for them and fill the rest with known incumbents. They are sabotaging the chances of newcomers by voting and electing their opposition.
I have been advocating for 4 wards within city limits. Each ward would have 25% of the population, give or take 5%. 100,000 residents would mean that each ward would have between 23,750 and 26,250 and the boundaries would change with the population growth.
Each ward would elect 2 councillors, perhaps the school boards would adopt the ward system, so the public school board could for example. have 2 trustees from each ward, and the mayor would be elected city wide.
Using the 2013 ballot, you would elect 1 mayor out of 5 candidates, you would elect 2 councillors out of 7 or 8 depending on the ward and the public school voters would elect 2 trustees out of 3 or 4 candidates, again, depending on the ward.
Perhaps under the ward system, with representation at the table, using my previous arguments, the residents living north of the river will actually get a new indoor ice rink, swimming pool and perhaps (dare I dream),their own high school. One can only dream.
The incumbents will say no to the ward system, stating the small size of Red Deer, omitting the fact that most incumbents are relying on their constituency of voters that are spread across the city and may not their constituency of voters may not be strong enough in only one ward.
Lately, there has been some voices out of city hall, demanding to be recognized as a big city and to be included in the “Big City Charter” and the extra money and power associated with it. Incidentally the cities covered by the big city charter currently use the ward system.
Should we hold another plebiscite, asking that our councillors represent their neighbours, should we ask that school board trustees represent the neighbourhood families, should we take the step to recognize that Red Deer is now a big city and not that small town anymore, and prepare for and govern like a big city.
2017 will see a few candidates run against the incumbent mayor but we may see in excess of 30 candidates run for city council and in excess of 20 candidates running for one of the 2 school boards’ trustee positions. Under the current system we will again see governing concentrating their attention in the same areas like downtown or the east hill. We will continue to ignore the needs of residents living in neighbourhoods like those north of the river.
“At Large” is an ideal that fails when reality is involved, the “Ward” system is a flawed ideal that may best represent our reality. What would do you think? It is your home. Thank you.

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Red Deer
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december, 2017

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