Lethbridge has put off discussing the possibility of a ward system for municipal elections. Bonnie Hilford, city clerk, presented options to move forward with conceptual planning to the city’s governance standing policy committee on April 28.
City staff provide two recommendations — to not proceed with the planning or to approve a one-time budget of $297,000 from the committee to create a commission, which would research and come back with recommendations for the system.
Either recommendation would have been sent to city council for approval, but the committee decided to table the discussion for a future meeting.
A ward election system breaks municipalities into districts for representation. It is used in Calgary and Edmonton.
“Although there are many exceptions, the move from an at-large to a ward system is usually driven at a certain population threshold. Generally an at-large vote system is the most appropriate election method in municipalities where the population is small,” Hilford said.
She added Lethbridge has traditionally been considered small, but its population has grown over 100,000. There is no guideline or mandate from the province on the system and Hilford said there is no conventional benchmark for making the switch.
A question was included in the last municipal election whether residents would like to see a ward system and 55.6 per cent of voters who answered said yes. Of the 28,348 people who voted in the municipal election, 26,236 voted on the question.
Committee Chair Belinda Crowson said Lethbridge has been discussing moving to a ward system since 1909.
“The difficulty always is of course that the council that was elected at large has difficulty choosing to move to a different format of course,” she said. “Today we are saying that we would be moving to a different format — we are looking at what kind of information we need to know about a ward system, what kind of recommendations might this commission bring back and move on from there.”
Coun. Rajko Dodic expressed support for recommending council not proceed with the idea.
Coun. Jeff Carlson was in favour of sending only information to council, without a recommendation. Crowson and Coun. John Middleton-Hope supported the first option. Middleton-Hope pointed to the election question as a reason to support moving forward.
“At the end of the day I think we have a responsibility to thoroughly research this and then I am not opposed to presenting this at some future date to council,” he said.
Crowson said an open invite to the public at the next meeting where it is discussed can help the committee, and council, understand the desire of the public and best options for moving forward.