The ward system, similar to a representative democracy at the provincial and federal level, essentially dissects a city into different regions (wards) with representatives elected from each region. Many cities across Ontario have municipal ward systems including Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston, Vaughn, Windsor, Oshawa, London, Timmins, Hamilton, Newmarket, Orillia, Barrie, Burlington and Cambridge, just to name a few. Even cities more comparable to Cornwall including Belleville and Peterborough have ward systems.
Deciding which government structure is best for Cornwall is not an easy decision and it is important to first understand the pros and cons of a ward system in general. Here is a summary of my thoughts from both sides of the political argument:
Equitable Distribution – A ward system ensures geographical distribution of elected officials and guarantees every region of the City is represented at the Council table.
Accountability – Councillors elected in a ward system will, by nature, be held more accountable to the voters of their own ward. In essence, each citizen will be represented by only ONE councillor, NOT 10 as per our current structure. This ensures that politicians are held to a higher standard of conduct and accountability among its’ voters.
Communication – A ward system allows for a clearer path of communication among voters and their elected representatives. As mentioned above, each citizen will be represented by only one councillor thus eradicating any confusion about whom to contact for questions or concerns about the community.
Minority Representation – A ward system allows for better representation of minority groups, who tend to reside in specific neighbourhoods throughout the City.
Voter Awareness – In a ward system, candidates would not have to campaign outside their respective wards. This would help candidates concentrate their efforts in smaller areas thus allowing voters to be more likely to meet their potential representatives, help make better informed decisions and likely increase voter turnout as a result.
Creates Division – A ward system may cause councillors to fight for their own ward interests rather than the interests of the community as a whole.
Regional Interests Don’t Exist – Regions of a city may not have different interests and thus a ward system is not required at the Council level. More specifically, citizens of a municipality may all share the same goals and visions for the community as a whole.
May Exclude Quality Councillors – A ward system may prevent highly qualified individuals from being elected simply because they live in the same ward as another highly qualified individual who is elected.
Accountability – A ward system may prevent councillors from being accountable to citizens other than those residing in their respective wards.
Costs – There may be costs associated with transitioning to a ward system including studies to determine geographical boundaries, studies on population and demographics, changes of election policy and logistics and potentially many others.
MY THOUGHTS FOR CORNWALL
A ward system is by no means the best system for all municipalities but it does have merit and should definitely be explored in Cornwall. Municipalities such as neighbouring South Glengarry, South Stormont, North Stormont, South Dundas and North Dundas, in which demographics and interests of citizens are similar and population is low, a ward system would not make political sense at all. However, in a city like Cornwall, where demographics are diverse and culture is ever-changing, a ward system may prove to be a better form of political structure.
Let me explain why.
Cornwall is not a simple city in terms of the opinions, beliefs, goals and interests of its’ citizens. It is a vast mix of low income families, working middle class, students, artists, seniors, wealthy investors, immigrants and retirees. To say that we all share the same interests would be outright naïve. Riverdale is not Le Village and Eamers Corners is not the Downtown Core. These are distinct neighbourhoods with distinct residents and distinct desires. In my opinion, they all deserve to be properly represented at City Hall.
A common complaint I often hear is that our current Council does not represent the interests of Cornwall as a whole. I believe this argument is true for the most part. No disrespect to our current Councillors, I have the utmost respect for each one of them, but it is my job as a candidate to not only distinguish myself from the pack but to also introduce ideas that will benefit Cornwall in the future. Cornwall is changing, and has the potential to change dramatically in the near future. Moving forward, a ward system may simply be the way to go. The sheer number of candidates and platform ideas this year proves that we have now outgrown our political system and are in desperate need for a significant change.
The opposing side of a ward system is noted above and needs to be taken into consideration as well. For that reason, my proposal as councillor if elected, would be to introduce a mixed-system of government which would include 8 representatives elected from 8 different wards while keeping an additional 2 representatives to be elected at large. The Mayor as well would continue to be elected at large.
It is through this mixed system of government that Cornwall can finally start to become the City which we also so desperately want it to be.
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