Three Rivers leaning toward open ward map instead of what was recommended

·2 min read

THREE RIVERS – Following a few months of discernment, the municipality's council has taken a step away from the recommended electoral boundaries and toward an at-large structure, also known as an open ward map.

"I think an open ward is better than the map we have," Coun. Cody Jenkins said. "The (recommended) map is going to be more divisive down the road."

The request for a decision was moved forward during a Three Rivers committees meeting in Georgetown on Jan. 25. Council will decide on the open ward system at a February meeting. If approved, it would reduce council from 10 to eight councillors, who would collectively look after all of Three Rivers rather than individual districts.

Two councillors advocated for accepting the electoral boundaries commission's map, which proposed an eight-ward structure with one councillor per ward. Coun. Cameron MacLean said it would balance Three Rivers' large geographical size by giving all its voters a more equal say.

"Yes, it gets a little messy," he said. "(But) it forces the councillors to represent more than just one area."

Concerns raised at past council meetings pertained to how the commission's map splits Montague across six wards and separates parts of some wards by rivers.

"I think most of us feel that the commission's map doesn't work," Coun. Gerard Holland said.

Jill Walsh, Three Rivers' chief administrative officer, told council it can't put the decision off for much longer. The commission had filed its recommendation in September last year and needs to be in effect well before Three Rivers' 2022 election.

"We're getting some pressure from Elections P.E.I. to get our structure determined," she said.

Heather MacLean, a member of the volunteer commission, said she wasn't necessarily surprised by council's decision to lean away from the recommendation. She was surprised by councillors’ strong reaction to it last fall because council had originally asked the commission to outline an eight-ward structure.

"We didn't recommend eight wards," she said in a follow-up interview with The Guardian. "That was decided before we started our work."

Discussions were had outlining what eight wards would likely entail, but concerns weren't raised until the recommendation was filed. If council tasked the commission to recommend multiple options, such as an open ward map, then the commission would have done so.

But MacLean, alongside volunteer members Anne VanDonkersgoed and Pat Uptegrove, never looked into any option other than what council had decided upon.

"Because it wasn't in our mandate."

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Daniel Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian