A ward system for Collingwood

Readers of my blog may recall that I have written about the need for electoral reform in Collingwood, particularly transitioning to a ward system from our current at-large system. Councils have the authority to establish wards under Section 222(1) of Ontario’s Municipal Act.

I last wrote about this in 2018. In 2009, a Collingwood staff report noted that in a ward system,

Elected officials have the ability to build strong relationships with the people he or she represents, becoming more aware of their needs and concerns and are more accessible to those people.

But the political will to make the change has been lacking. In part that’s been because some candidates have campaigned as a slate or block (the last two councils in particular) and a ward system would have hampered their efforts to load the council table with their preferred candidates. But that’s not how a democracy should be designed: the at-large system serves the politicians, but not the best interests of the electorate. Ward systems make it harder for cliques to get elected.

In 2017, North Grenville was considering a similar change and the local newspaper put together a list of 11 positive benefits for a ward system of voting. Included in that list were that in such a system, “Voters get to know their Ward representatives better than at-large ones.” This means elected representatives cannot easily slough off their responsibilities to their stakeholders.

It added, “Ward Council members are more sensitive to small but important problems of their local constituents,” and “The Ward system improves citizen participation as Council members respond more to the needs of their constituency.” In a subsequent piece in 2017, the paper noted:

Municipal Councillors elected by the “at large” system are not as accountable and accessible as those elected in a Municipal Wards system. Nor do they reflect any obligation to any specific area that they were not elected to service. Any lack of action concerning a small area of the Municipality would not endanger their seat as their political motivations are limited. It is also most important that anyone elected to Council live in the specific ward that they represent. That would help prevent outsiders from thwarting the will and needs of local residents.

In 2000, Niagara Falls changed from a ward system to an at-large system, which triggered a massive outcry from residents to switch back to wards and an OMB challenge over the change. And in 2015, a columnist in the Windsor Star wrote.

Arguments supporting a ward system relate to two major areas. First, clear identification of who represents whom on a municipal council. The argument I’ve heard in Kingsville, that “we all represent everybody,” is both a clear abrogation of specific responsibility and, arguably, an insult to voters.
A specific issue on your street or in your neighbourhood forces you to try to identify which member(s) of council might be willing to represent your concerns before council. Old-boy/girl networks certainly come into play.

The Town of Lincoln’s website says clearly: “The purpose of a ward system is:
To ensure that fair public representation is achieved during municipal elections and the governance of a municipality by Council.”

In Kelowna, BC, a letter writer commented about the disadvantages of its at-large system because “Proponents of “at large” claim it is best for all of Kelowna. In practice the main beneficiaries are councillors. They can easily avoid an exchange of communication when a concern is addressed to the council “at large”—having solicited votes as individuals from across Kelowna.” The writer added, “A ward system in municipal election would remove the anonymity of responsibility available under the current system.”

Aurora passed a bylaw to switch to a ward system in 2020. In the staff report on the pros and cons of a ward system, it noted that under a ward system,

  • Councillors are more likely to be truly local representatives, easily accessible to
    residents and aware of local issues;
  • Significant communities of interest are more likely to be represented.
  • It is less likely that one particular point of view or sectional interest will dominate
    the Council.
  • Provides more cost-efficient government, primarily by eliminating duplication of
    administrative work communicating the same information to and from two or
    more Councillors.
  • Simplifies the election process for electors.

Collingwood is long overdue for the change, especially as our population grows and the demographics change. Given the stunningly low turnout for the last provincial election (42% of eligible voters), we should be looking at ways to better engage our residents, and better represent them at the council table. A ward system will help do that.

I will advocate for the discussion about a ward system if elected to council this fall.

1 thought on “A ward system for Collingwood

  1. Chadwick for Council Post author

    Here’s what I wrote about creating a ward system, back in 2018:

    Can any councillor elected at large truly represent all the interests, issues and voters throughout the community? Based on my experience both as a reporter covering the region for a dozen years and a councillor for three terms, I don’t believe so. The electorate here is very diverse and what affects, say, voters in the long-established far east side of town may be very different from what affects them in the new subdivisions in the west.

    I also wrote this in 2018:

    …Collingwood needs to look into a ward system. That way residents will know who to call, and who is responsible. No more ducking and weaving and not answering calls or pretending it’s up to someone else.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.