‘Dynamic areas need dynamic leaders’
West Hants warden’s bid to switch over to mayoral system rejected by council
West Hants residents won’t be electing a mayor anytime soon.
Municipal councillors have been discussing the idea of making the switch from a warden to a mayor system since the fall 2016 election.
Warden Abraham Zebian spoke passionately about wanting to make the change during West Hants council’s March 13 meeting.
“Dynamic areas need dynamic leaders. Leaders represent the people, rather than a council. Leaders who will share their opinions and defend what is right... rather than worry they may have offended some councillors who hold the power to remove them,” Zebian said as he explained to fellow councillors why he thought the political system shift was the right way to go.
One of the main differences between mayors and wardens is that mayors are elected by the public at the same time as councillors while the position of the warden is decided by councillors following the election.
“In this time of austerity and anti-politics anger, the most potent argument for the anti-mayor campaign is the possible cost to change. I’ll call nonsense on that argument,” said Zebian.
“I think we all ran successful election campaigns during the last election and nobody spent a fair amount of money on doing it. By using creative techniques and a little elbow grease, you can do a lot for a little amount of money.”
Staff reports that were prepared on the subject for council’s consideration over the last year indicate there would be a financial impact since it would add another member to the council.
“Elected mayors have the most potential to bring the best out of councils. They can drive the mandate, they can bang the table and they can deliver results that the people want to see,” said Zebian.
“I believe this is the only way forward and it would show our residents that we really, truly value their voice.”
After Zebian presented a list of pros and cons, councillors had the opportunity to weigh in — and the vast majority were not in favour of making the change in time for the 2020 election.
Coun. Jennifer Daniels had a number of concerns, and noted that the Municipal Government Act considers mayors and wardens to be equal — neither one has more power than the other.
“Leadership is not just one person around this table; leadership is all of us,” she later added.
“The warden or the mayor, they’re simply the spokesperson of the municipality when we all agree on a topic. That’s what it is.”
Daniels also felt it would cost candidates more to run for the position of mayor in a large municipality as they would have to campaign across the entire Rupert Jannasch
county instead of one district. She likened it to running for the position of MLA.
“The cost is very cost-prohibitive,” said Daniels, adding that would limit the people who could run for office.
“We are grassroots politics. We are not provincial politics, we are not federal politics. This is the opportunity that everyone can have to sit around this table. It provides a more diverse opportunity.”
Coun. Randy Hussey, Coun Robbie Zwicker and Coun. Tanya Leopold all had similar concerns over making the switch.
“I would personally like to see a reduction in the size of council, not an additional council person or mayor,” said Hussey.
“I think we’re over-governed as it is and I’d like to see the municipal boundary review done before we get to a mayoral-warden system.”
Coun. Kathy Monroe was in favour of making the switch to a mayor system, but also wanted a boundary review completed as she also felt West Hants is overgoverned.
“I believe that this is long-range (planning). I believe that the motion was by the next election. That gives us time. It points our arrow in the right direction,” she said.
Coun. Rupert Jannasch said he would like to see changes made to how the warden is selected.
When elected in 2016, seven of the 10 councillors were new to politics. They were required at the first meeting to elect a warden — the person who would represent them for the next four years.
“I think there is flexibility in the system, should we choose to pursue it, that the decision does not have to be made at the first meeting of council for the permanent warden,” said Jannasch, indicating he’d like to see that idea explored.
Zebian’s motion to have the municipality switch over to a mayoral system by 2020 was rejected 7-3. Voting in favour of the change were Zebian, Monroe and David Keith. Opposed were Daniels, Hussey, Jannasch, Leopold, Zwicker, Debbie Francis, and Deputy Warden Paul Morton.
Warden Abraham Zebian