Alberta Politics

Ward system plebiscite faces Red Deer voters

New York Ward System
A map of New York’s ancient ward system.

Yesterday, I travelled to Red Deer to participate in a panel discussion with Mount Royal University professor Duane Bratt and former councillor Larry Pimm about an upcoming plebiscite on whether to adopt a ward system or to remain with an at-large system of electing the city’s eight councillors.

With a population of 90,564, according to the 2011 census, Red Deer has grown considerably over the past decade (the 2001 census showed 67,707 residents in the city).

With this population growth in mind, Red Deerians  should consider the important issue of representation and whether they will be better represented having one or more councillors representing their specific area of the city in a ward system.

Another question for Red Deerians to consider is whether their city has grown so large that it may become inaccessible for candidates to run in a city-wide election campaign. Facing nearly 100,000 residents, many candidates may not have access to the resources – money and volunteers – to run a large city-wide campaign.

Currently, four large municipalities in Alberta – Strathcona County (including Sherwood Park),  Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (including Fort McMurray) and the cities of Calgary and Edmonton – elect councillors through a ward system. Other cities, like Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Airdrie and St. Albert, currently elect their city councillors through an at-large system.

Red Deer is not the only Canadian city having this debate. In Oshawa, residents have presented a petition to their city council in favour of moving to a ward system, which the city abandoned in favour of an at-large system in 2010. In Sudbury, there is a debate whether to abandon the ward system and return to the at-large system. Even Vancouver, with more than 600,000 residents, there is still debate about whether should keep its at-large system.

It has been forty-five years since Edmontonians decided to abandon the at-large system in favour of wards. With a population of more than 370,000 in 1968, Edmontonians voted in favour of moving to a ward system and, in 1971, the city was divided into four wards where voters could choose three-candidates as councillors. In 1980, Edmonton was divided into six wards each represented by two councillors and, in 2010, the city moved to a system of twelve wards each represented by one councillor.

Regardless of the decision made by Red Deer voters in this year’s plebiscite, with a fast-expanding population and projections showing large growth ahead, representation may continue to be an issue in the future.

Hotly contested mayoral election

With the retirement of three-term mayor Morris Flewwelling, a hotly contested race to replace the mayor has emerged. Two incumbent councillors, Cindy Jefferies and Tara Veer, have been joined by candidates Chad Mason, William Horn and Dennis Trepanier in the race for mayor.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Red Deer First says the slate has no official connections with the Wildrose Party and the right-wing Manning Centre. “Manning Centre called us and asked if we would be interested in hooking up with them. We said no thank you, that’s not what we are into doing. We’ve never had any association beyond the phone call,” candidate Darren Young told the Red Deer Advocate.