At the Jan. 12 council meeting for Tudor and Cashel Township, Councillor Noreen Reilly put forth a motion to pass a bylaw to adopt a three-ward system in the municipality for the 2022 election to replace the current at-large system. While she feels that the past two terms of council have had councillors that represent all areas and residents of the township, she’d like to ensure it stays that way by moving to the three-ward system, which would help to ensure that equitable political representation in their township continues.
Councillor Bob Bridger questioned whether the change was even needed, and wanted to consult the electorate before any motions or bylaws were passed. However, the motion and bylaw ended up being passed by council, and public consultations on whether Tudor and Cashel Township would benefit from the ward system will begin within 15 days from that vote.
Tudor and Cashel Township currently has an at-large system of voting, which Reilly wants to change to a ward system of voting. Each system of representation, whether it is the at-large system or the ward system, has its own pros and cons. For the at-large system, some advantages are that electors have greater choice, they can choose who they think will do the best job versus who is running in their ward, their concerns can be brought to a larger number of councillors, there’s a township wide focus versus more regional interests, and the likelihood of acclamations (an uncontested election where the candidate wins by default) is reduced. Disadvantages of the at-large system are increased campaign costs as candidates have to campaign across a larger area, some communities of interest could be unrepresented or underrepresented, candidates who appeal to higher voter turnout areas tend to be elected more, and potential confusion and duplication of councillors’ responsibilities on any given issue.
The ward system advantages include councillors who are likelier to be truly local representatives better representing their concerns, a wider array of issues within the township are likelier to be represented at council, the prospect of a particular point of view at council is lessened, the election process is simplified for electors, a new candidate stands a better chance at winning in an election, and campaign costs are likely to be less. The disadvantages of the ward system are councillors being elected on minor issues and lacking a greater understanding of the township’s issues as a whole, communities of interest may end up being divided by ward boundaries, a smaller choice of candidates for voters, a greater possibility of acclamations, little recourse for voters if a councillor is not doing their job properly (there are no other councillors the electorate can approach), population changes could cause unequal workloads for councillors, and if an incumbent is popular in a ward it may deter others from running against him or her.
Reilly provided some background on how Tudor and Cashel Township is unique to other municipalities in the area in that it is split by services coming from townships to the north and south, sometimes leading to a feeling of disconnect and lack of representation by some residents, which she thinks the ward system would alleviate.
“Police, and I believe ambulance, are dispatched from Central Hastings for the south and Bancroft for the north. Our family health team is in Madoc. Many of our shared services align with townships to the north, for example our CBO and community emergency management committee. Even our news publications are split. In the south we do not get any Bancroft news publications, they are very [city of] Stirling centric. This was quite concerning when the township had to advertise in both places with great disparities in ad pricing, but also leaves the south lacking the information shared to residents in the north,” she says.
Reilly had heard concerns from residents about lack of representation and alienation since she had campaigned in her first election, and while she thought that the past two terms had had a good compliment of councillors representing all the geographical areas well.
“They have provided insight into unique concerns with policing, fire, traffic, waste sites, roads, litter, water bodies, and planning to name a few. Each of the councillors bring the experiences and knowledge of unique concerns from their area to council, which lead to better, and more informed decisions,” she says
Reilly says she also sought this change to the ward system due to Councillor Roy Reeds’ experience during the 2018 election, a story he shared with council on Jan. 12.
“I look back on the last election and yes, I got voted in, but just by a few votes. If I had failed, Wanda [Donaldson] would have won, and there would have been two representatives from Millbridge and none from Cashel. This is just a way to even it out and always have representation from all three areas of the township. I’d like to see this go forward and public consultation will be part of it anyhow,” he says.
Just before Christmas 2020, Reilly looked into it and found an article on wards written by a municipal lawyer and also found that Aurora had recently established a ward system.
“I read the motion, the bylaw, treasurer and consultant reports, responses from the community survey, how the boundaries and number of wards were determined. I had concerns, given the sentiments of the ratepayers, that it may further divide the township. However, wards seem to be the ideal solution to ensure assured representation and the mayor would continue to be elected at large. A good council brings diverse and varied backgrounds including awareness of issues from their own backyard,” she says.
Municipalities are able to proceed with the change from an at-large system to a ward system under section 222 (1) of Ontario’s Municipal Act, 2001. After passing the bylaw, the council has to give notice of the bylaw’s passing within 15 days of passage. If through public consultation, any member of the public takes issue with the bylaw, they can appeal it to Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (formerly the OMB) within 45 days of the bylaw being passed. LPAT has the authority to affirm, amend or repeal the bylaw in question.
Having effective representation is the ultimate goal in changing to the ward system, with a deviation in population of 25 per cent to 33 per cent deemed acceptable as long as that deviation is justified by a set of questions known as the Carter Criteria. These criteria are;
Does the change equitably distribute the population and the electors? Does it respect identifiable communities of interest? Does it utilize natural and physical boundaries that are locally recognized? Does it serve the larger public interest of all electors of the municipality in contrast to the interest of a small group? These are the questions that council will ask if and when the public votes to adopt the ward system, and are also the guiding queries that LPAT will refer to if a resident decides to appeal that change.
During the council meeting, Bridger, while he understood Reilly’s concerns, wanted to approach the electorate before passing any motions or bylaws, thus avoiding any unnecessary expenditures in time and money.
“This isn’t a decision that council can make, it’s a decision that the people make,” he says.
Reilly replied that indeed it was a decision council could make, passing the motion and bylaw looking into this change, with a public consultation to follow.
“Step one is a motion, step two is putting a bylaw forward and step three is public consultation and making sure that the population in each of the three proposed wards is equally divided,” she says.
Bridger said that that biggest change they’d had in their electoral system in recent years was electronic voting, which allowed people from farther afield in the township to get involved in the community and vote without having to come up to Gilmour.
“That worked well to provide a good representation to all areas of the township. Why do we need to do this at all? We should do a public consultation first before any motion or bylaw to avoid any unnecessary costs for something the people don’t want,” he says.
Reeds answered that unless you have a motion and a bylaw, you won’t have a public consultation, as the first two items usually come first. Nancy Carrol, the clerk and treasurer, also made that point in her letter to council in the meeting agenda.
“Public consultation will be necessary to ensure the voters are agreeable to the establishment of the wards and feel that the boundaries defined in the wards would meet their needs for effective representation. This could be achieved through surveys and a public forum,” she says.
Bridger said that he has no issues with adopting the ward system if it is warranted, although he is not sure it is in Tudor and Cashel Township.
“The main issues and concerns of the people in this township tend to be taxes, roads and dumps. It’s not like there’s high crime in this area and homelessness in that area. Further I have been to all areas of this township to meet with people to hear their issues and bring them to council where warranted, and I will continue to do so, ward system or not. Regardless of how I feel, if the majority of taxpayers in this township want to move to a ward system then so be it,” he says.
After everyone had a chance to comment and ask questions, the council voted and the motion and bylaw were passed by a yes vote from Mayor Libby Clarke, Reilly and Reeds, a no vote from Bridger, and no reply from Deputy Mayor Carroll due to technical issues. Reilly was pleased that it had passed.
“I look forward to next steps, including hearing from the community.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times