At their April 6 meeting, Tudor and Cashel Township council decided to temporarily abandon the push to move the municipality from an at large system of voting to a ward system. Originally proposed by Councillor Noreen Reilly in a motion at the Jan. 12 council meeting, the idea was rejected by a margin of four to one in an informal poll sent out with the interim tax notices. While the idea of moving to a ward system has been shelved for now, it may be brought up again in a referendum on the 2022 municipal election ballot.
Reilly initially put forth a motion to pass a bylaw to adopt a three-ward system in Tudor and Cashel for the 2022 election to replace the current at-large system at the Jan. 12 council meeting. While she felt that the past two terms of council have had councillors that represent all areas and residents of the township, she wanted 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 were struck with an informal survey being sent out to taxpayers on the interim tax notices on Feb. 18.
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. There are several pros and cons with either the at large system or the ward system. 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’s 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.
At the April 6 council meeting, council discussed the ward system survey results that had appeared on the interim tax notices. There was a suggestion in the agenda from Nancy Carrol, the clerk and treasurer, that the township schedule a town hall meeting to allow residents to speak on the issue of installing wards in Tudor and Cashel Township. Councillor Bob Bridger objected to this on two fronts.
“How would you have a town hall meeting and more importantly, by almost a four to one margin, people have said they’re not interested in the ward system. Why would we waste another penny of taxpayers’ dollars going further with this at this point?” he says.
Bridger subsequently made a motion to quash the implementation of the ward system, due to the preliminary vote revealing the ward system was rejected by an almost four to one margin, and that a town hall would be severely limited by having to have it virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, that it should be abandoned.
This was seconded by Councillor Roy Reeds, with the provision of having further discussion on it. He said he was disappointed in the results but he accepts them.
“I realize that it’s a straw poll and that not every taxpayer was asked, however, straw polls can have sway. So, I don’t see there’s enough time this year to move forward with this. If anything, I would like to see it put on the ballot and let the electorate decide. I think it has merit but according to this poll, there’s not enough people interested in doing it,” he says.
Mayor Libby Clarke said that she had been speaking to her colleagues in municipalities that do have ward systems.
“I don’t feel that the comments that I’m getting from them would warrant doing this. For example, Stirling Rawdon went to a ward system and they want to go back to the at-large system. I have grave concerns as well, at this time of year with the pandemic going on. I just feel at this time it’s not the right time to be doing this,” she says.
One of the residents in opposition to the ward system is Pat Stallaert, who even wrote an open letter to Mayor Clarke in Bancroft This Week on April 2, firmly denouncing the idea of implementing a ward system. While relieved that council saw the will of their constituents, 80 per cent of whom did not want the change, he said he felt frustration that the matter had come up at all, taking up council time and taxpayer’s money.
Reilly agreed with Reeds and Clarke, and said she would also say no to proceeding with a change to the ward system.
“I particularly like the suggestion that Councillor Reeds put forward that we put it on the ballot [in 2022],” she says.
With Reilly’s comment, council put forth the motion that the implementation of the ward system in Tudor and Cashel be abandoned for now and that it possibly be put to a referendum on the 2022 election ballot. The vote was passed by council and they moved on to other business.
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times