Wat­son looks to re­vamp city coun­cil with bor­ough sys­tem

Orleans Star - - FRONT PAGE - By Tricia Van der Gri­ent tricia.van­der­gri­ent@transcontinental.ca

May­oral can­di­date Jim Wat­son says cre­at­ing a bor­ough sys­tem to re­duce the num­ber of city coun­cil­lors would help res­i­dents be more con­nected to city coun­cil.

His vi­sion is to have four bor­oughs each con­sist­ing of a small group of coun­cil­lors who are elected and have ju­ris­dic­tion over lo­cal mat­ters.

The sys­tem would also re­duce the num­ber of city coun­cil­lors from 23 to be­tween 14 and 17, sav­ing an es­ti­mated $2 mil­lion an­nu­ally in salaries and of­fice bud­gets.

Wat­son says the bor­ough sys­tem would free up city coun­cil to work on big­ger city-wide is­sues such as the bud­get and light rail.

“What I’ve no­ticed are peo­ple in Or­léans and other out­ly­ing ar­eas feel dis­con­nected from down­town city hall,” Wat­son says. Fol­low­ing the amal­ga­ma­tion al­most a decade ago, he says peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas still feel they aren’t al­ways be­ing heard in the de­ci­sion mak­ing.

“Why should all the city coun­cil­lors be able to de­cide what’s im­por­tant for one com­mu­nity?” Wat­son says. “This bogs down the rest of city hall. Now, coun­cil­lors are cast­ing a vote on some­thing which has no im­pact on their con­stituents.”

The re­cent con­tro­versy over the round­about at Jeanne D’Arc and Or­leans Boule­vard is an ex­am­ple of how an is­sue is bet­ter un­der­stood and dealt with at a lo­cal level, Wat­son says. The east end coun­cil­lors did not en­dorse the project but it was voted through any­way.

With the pos­si­ble re­duc­tion of city coun­cil­lors, some sub­ur­ban and ur­ban wards would be in­creased in size, but no ru­ral seats would be af­fected since they are pro­tected by a court rul­ing.

His elec­toral op­po­nents have expressed con­cern over the plan. Larry O’Brien said the re­duc­tion of coun­cil­lors would “shift the de­ci­sion mak­ing back to the core of the city,” while Alex Cullen said re­duc­ing coun­cil would come at the cost of re­duc­ing the demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the city.

Wat­son coun­ters the ar­gu­ments by point­ing out the nu­mer­ous cities which have bor­ough sys­tems such as Toronto and Mon­treal.

“We have the most coun­cil­lors per capita in Ot­tawa than any­where else in the coun­try,” Wat­son says. Cur­rently in Ot­tawa there is one city councillor for an av­er­age of 34,000 res­i­dents in a ward, com­pared to one councillor for 65,000 in Cal­gary and a ra­tio of 1:57,000 in Toronto.

“One size does not fit all for ev­ery part of the city, and city hall is a long way from Or­léans,” Wat­son says. “I think coun­cil­lors do a great job rep­re­sent­ing their con­stituents but lo­cal de­ci­sions should be made in your own com­mu­ni­ties. I hope this can make govern­ment more ac­ces­si­ble for peo­ple.”

If elected, Wat­son says he would ap­point a panel of ex­perts to ad­vise on how a bor­ough sys­tem should work and whether the re­duc­tion of coun­cil­lors is needed.

As far as fund­ing for the bor­oughs goes, Wat­son says they would not re­ceive sep­a­rate fund­ing for lo­cal projects. “If it’s al­ready in the bud­get then it won’t have to be re-ap­proved, only if ad­di­tional fund­ing is re­quired would it go to coun­cil for ap­proval,” Wat­son ex­plains.

Cum­ber­land ward councillor Rob Jel­lett says he would con­sider sup­port­ing the plan. “Lis­ten, any­thing that sim­pli­fies govern­ment and gives peo­ple a bet­ter voice is a good thing,” Jel­lett says.

“My­self and the other east end coun­cil­lors al­ready work to­gether closely on is­sues but we don’t have the author­ity to go ahead and make de­ci­sions on sim­pler things like stop signs and park im­prove­ments,” he says.

He says his only con­cern is the lo­gis­tics of the fund­ing. He says he will wait to see what the panel rec­om­mends be­fore mak­ing any de­ci­sions, but says he ap­pre­ci­ates the idea be­hind it – keep­ing things lo­cal.

If elected, Wat­son says he would pro­pose the plan to coun­cil within six months. Elect­ing a smaller coun­cil, how­ever, would not be pos­si­ble un­til the next mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion.

Photo by Bianca Pa­que­tte)

May­oral can­di­date Jim Wat­son wants to cre­ate a bor­ough sys­tem for the city of Ot­tawa.(

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