Lethbridge city council will discuss researching and potentially building a conceptual plan for a ward election system after a split committee vote.
The idea was before the governance standing policy committee again on May 26, after being tabled late last month. The four person committee discussed and defeated a motion to recommend council proceed with analysis and public engagement with a budget of $297,000.
Coun. Belinda Crowson was in favour and said creating a commission to research the concept, which was part of the recommendation, could lead to a broader conversation on civic engagement.
“They might suggest something that we are not even thinking yet, but this is the conversation — and civic engagement is absolutely vital to our community,” she said. “These are the conversations that we as the governing body of the city should be leading and this is what this resolution is about.”
A question was included on the 2021 election ballot, which read, “do you support using a ward system to elect city councillors (other than the mayor) starting with the 2025 municipal election?” Of the 26,236 who voted on the question, 55 per cent were in favour.
“Questions like that are so open-ended and can have different meanings for different people,” Said Coun. Rajko Dodic. “If it was included in the information that we have today, that there is going to be a significant initial outlay and a significant ongoing cost if you proceed with a ward system, I suspect that the 55-45 in favour would have flipped.”
Coun. Jeff Carlson, along with Dodic, voted against the recommendation. Both were concerned about the cost of creating a commission.
“I don’t buy the argument that the $300,000 to conduct an examination of whether or not we go to a ward system and if we do, what type of ward system we might consider — I don’t think that’s out of bounds,” said Coun. John Middleton-Hope. “I think whatever it costs it costs and I think it’s something that we have received a direction from [voters], one might say that 45 per cent voted against it, of those that did vote, but 55 per cent voted in favour of it.”
Middleton-Hope voted in favour, saying the motion would achieve a fulsome examination of the system and the way residents cast their vote.
Carlson said he does not believe what he has heard members of the public want from a ward system is what will actually be achieved. “I think that’s a discussion I would like to have with the community.”
Crowson pointed out she supports the motion for the same reason Carlson does not, saying that the city has to look at why it has seen poor voter turnout and needs solutions to a lack of civic engagement.
“This is not saying that we are going to go to a ward system,” she said. “This is saying that we are going to create a commission, a group of Lethbridge residents who are going to be educated in these very topics that we are conversing about — who are going to have reading material, who are going to then represent the community and bring forward recommendations.”
Even though the motion failed, it will still go to council, where it could be continued, amended or shot down.