Central Huron will retain ward system - March 9, 2017
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
On Monday night, Central Huron Council voted to maintain the municipality’s current ward system.
Council faced widespread criticism of the proposed move in the form of several delegations, the municipality’s own website poll and residents speaking to councillors over the past two weeks.
The issue was first raised last month and council held its public meeting on the issue on Monday night. Approximately two dozen residents were in attendance for the meeting.
Ahead of council making its decision, delegations of Bill Stevenson, Dave Hemingway and Brian Barnim all spoke against any changes to the ward system.
Stevenson told council that he felt the public had not been adequately consulted on the matter and didn’t necessarily ask for any changes to be made.
He also cited the Goderich Township de-amalgamation initiative of 2013, saying that dissolving the ward system would be a slap in the face to those residents, 70 per cent of total West Ward residents, who signed a petition wishing to deamalgamate from Central Huron.
Hemingway agreed with many of the points made by Stevenson, adding that removing the ward system in Central Huron would be simply another step in the distancing of government from the people it’s meant to represent. He cited examples of organizations like the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) and the conservation authorities to illustrate the distancing of government from its community roots.
Barnim said that dissolving the ward system would kill a long, proud tradition of grassroots, community governance that Goderich Township has known for decades. He also referenced the deamalgamation discussions from 2013, saying that removing the wards from the municipality would no doubt spark that fire to burn once again.
He suggested that if council was to go ahead with abolishing the ward system, it would no doubt result in an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) challenge, that would draw the process out until past Jan. 1, 2018, meaning that it would then be too late for the changes to take effect in time for the 2018 municipal election.
He suggested a referendum vote on the topic to truly garner input from residents. He acknowledged that a referendum would also delay any potential changes until the 2022 municipal election, but said it would be no different than if council were to make a decision at Monday night’s meeting that would result in an OMB challenge.
He also referenced current economic development material being produced in Huron East ahead of the International Plowing Match this fall. He said that the municipality is working to highlight its five wards and market their differences to the ward, just as Central Huron is looking to destroy its ward system.
Most councillors spoke against dissolving the ward system, saying that in the weeks since the issue was first raised, they had received only comments against abolishing the ward system.
In her report to council, Clerk Brenda MacIsaac also stated that public input had been leaning heavily to keeping the ward system, saying that on the municipality’s website poll, votes to keep the ward system nearly tripled votes to dissolve it.
Mayor Jim Ginn said he didn’t feel strongly about the issue one way or another, but after the 2014 election, when it was discovered that municipal candidates could run in wards other than their home wards, he felt the ward system had become irrelevant due to provincial regulations.
He did say that if elections were held with an at-large voting system, residents would be able to vote for all eight members of council, rather than just five under the current system.
Councillors Alison Lobb and Marg Anderson both spoke in favour of the ward system. Both long-time councillors for their respective wards, they both said that residents feel comfortable approaching representatives from their own ward, whereas they may not have that comfort level if they don’t personally know their representative.
Several councillors spoke in favour of a referendum as proposed by Barnim, saying that if the issue was so important to residents, perhaps they should decide for themselves.
Council then voted to maintain the status quo and retain the ward system. By way of a recorded vote, Mayor Jim Ginn, Deputy-Mayor Dave Jewitt and Councillors Lobb, Anderson, Burkhard Metzger and Adam Robinson all voted against dissolving the ward system. Councillor Dan Colquhoun voted to abolish the ward system and Councillor Alex Westerhout was absent.