by Brian Lonergan
This newspaper recently called for proposals regarding optional changes to electing Municipal officials in this community. Our current system elects four Councillors at large to represent the people of North Grenville. My contention is that many people living in small local areas are not truly represented by the current “at large” electoral system.
Municipal Councillors elected by the “at large” system are not as accountable and accessible as those elected in a Municipal Wards system. Nor do they reflect any obligation to any specific area that they were not elected to service. Any lack of action concerning a small area of the Municipality would not endanger their seat as their political motivations are limited. It is also most important that anyone elected to Council live in the specific ward that they represent. That would help prevent outsiders from thwarting the will and needs of local residents. In addition, if the Municipality of North Grenville were divided into 8 Wards, it would increase Council size as well as further diversify opinion on the Council.
For example, if 4-5 members are elected that live in the downtown area, downtown would tend to be over-represented. Individually, they might not be as motivated to tend to a sewage problem in Oxford-on-Rideau, or restoring an historic building in Oxford Mills in the manner that the local citizenry there expects. In this instance, people living in outlying areas would be under-represented. A Councillor elected from the ward where Oxford Mills was situated would tend to a local problem much more vigorously than a downtown Councillor would.
Parliamentary Democracy means true local representation. The at-large system usually favors the central city. Please understand that I am not accusing current sitting Councillors of not doing their jobs but rather am laying the case for improved accountable and accessible representation. Referral to places in this article are fictitious and not tied to any actual events but used as examples only.
Electorally, an organized group of just a few citizens could ally and take over a municipality resulting in a tyranny by an organized minority not responsible to anyone during their term of office. They could even reshape the town and enact development for their own profit if they saw fit, against the majority will of residents. That scenario would be almost impossible to accomplish in ward representation as it would be far too cumbersome for such an alliance to have members living in each ward.
In sum, Ward Councillors would be much more accessible and accountable than they are now. More voices focusing on broader local matters would be heard in Council. For that reason, I heartily endorse any movement to divide North Grenville into at least 8 electoral wards, thereby providing all residents with a truly more democratic, accessible, and representative Council. The Mayor can continue to be elected at large as he represents the municipality as a whole.