Ward sys­tem works just fine

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - STEVEN WARBURTON

North Glen­garry vot­ers are served well by the ward sys­tem; they would be well ad­vised to re­tain it in the Oc­to­ber elec­tion.

Under the ward sys­tem, North Glen­gar­ri­ans can elect at least one coun­cil­lor to ad­dress their com­mu­nity's spe­cific needs. If you live in Maxville, for ex­am­ple, and you want coun­cil to do some­thing about the side­walks, your best course of ac­tion is to call the Maxville ward coun­cil­lor - who may share sim­i­lar con­cerns about the side­walks - and he or she will ad­vo­cate in front of coun­cil on your be­half.

Would that hap­pen if all the coun­cil­lors lived in Alexan­dria? Maybe so, but Maxville would lose out on the im­me­di­acy of hav­ing an elected of­fi­cial living among them. They'd lose out on hav­ing a politi­cian who would be echo­ing their con­cerns, not merely par­rot­ing them. That's be­cause ward coun­cil­lors tend to be more sen­si­tive to the small prob­lems of their con­stituents.

More im­por­tantly, the ward sys­tem does a bet­ter job, in the­ory, of pro­vid­ing bal­anced rep­re­sen­ta­tion. It does this by mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for all coun­cil­lors to come from one ge­o­graphic area; in­stead, we can make it manda­tory that ev­ery­one run­ning for a ward po­si­tion be a res­i­dent and/or a prop­erty owner of the wards they rep­re­sent.

The biggest dis­ad­van­tage to the ward sys­tem (and this was pointed out by Bob Gra­ham at a spe­cial March 1 coun­cil meet­ing) is that it al­lows for coun­cil­lors to weigh in on mat­ters that don't di­rectly af­fect their con­stituents. If you're a Maxville coun­cil­lor, you'll be ex­pected to vote on by­laws that af­fect only peo­ple in Alexan­dria or Lochiel. Politi­cians are fond of say- ing that they do their best to take ev­ery­one's feel­ings into con­sid­er­a­tion, but it is, per­haps, more prag­matic to say an at-large sys­tem would go fur­ther to rec­tify that.

De­spite this black mark, the ward sys­tem is still the way to go. Oth­ers claim that the ward sys­tem re­sults in more politi­cians getting elected through ac­cli­ma­tion. This prob­a­bly isn't true (in the 2014 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion, North Glen­garry's mayor and deputy­mayor - both at-large po­si­tions - were ac­claimed; the biggest con­test was for the Alexan­dria ward, where Michel Depratto beat out three other can­di­dates) but even if it were, the fault would not lie with the ward sys­tem, it would lie with voter ap­a­thy. At the March 1 meet­ing, some coun­cil­lors de­cried that only 33 per cent of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers cast their vote. Well, that's be­cause 67 per cent of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers are ei­ther too lazy or too ap­a­thetic to make the trek to the polling sta­tion (or, since elec­tronic vot­ing was al­lowed in 2014, their com­puter). If you want to see change, you need to get in­volved in the elec­toral process - ei­ther by vot­ing or - even bet­ter - run­ning for of­fice.

If any change is needed in North Glen­garry, it would be to al­low for bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion by pop­u­la­tion.

Cur­rently, the Lochiel, Kenyon, and Alexan­dria wards have 3,000 peo­ple whereas Maxville only has 800.

That gives Maxville an un­fair ad­van­tage. Per­haps the wards them­selves need to be tweaked more. Maybe Maxville's ter­ri­tory could be ex­panded to in­clude Green­field or Ap­ple Hill or Dun­ve­gan. Maybe we should com­pletely re­de­fine the wards, elim­i­nate the coun­cil­lor-at-large po­si­tion, and cre­ate five wards.

But whether or not North Glen­garry chooses to tweak the wards or stay the course, it's clear that the ward sys­tem is what's best for the town­ship.

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