Perth South Council sounds off on electoral reform

By Dan Rankin

On Tuesday evening, Perth South Clerk Lizet Scott presented to Council a report on some of the pros and cons of instituting changes to the way the ballot looks before the next municipal election in 2018.

Though most of Council agrees that some change needs to take place, as of yet, the councillors have different priorities in mind. Mayor Bob Wilhelm decided to defer making a decision to a later date when they have more information.

The current system in place, which was in place for the last election in 2014, has voters select six councillors (three in the Downie Ward and three in Blanshard), and a mayor at large (meaning, unbound by geographic boundaries). Council then appoints a deputy mayor. Scott pointed out that Perth South’s election system is a sort of blend of other local jurisdictions; the Councils of St. Marys and Stratford both appoint their deputy mayors, while the other lower-tier Perth County municipalities all have ward systems for electing councillors.

Changes considered by Scott included permitting voters to vote for a deputy mayor, eliminating the ward system so councillors are elected at large, and reducing the size of Council from seven members to five.

Scott’s analysis pointed out that the ward system helps ensure a larger geographic area is represented in terms of councillor distribution and simplifies a voters choice, as each voter is only selecting three councillors. On the other hand, they may be elected with few votes, “given the reduced electoral population as a result of ward segregation.” An at large system for selecting councillors would eliminate the need to ever review or redraw district lines, and also make elections easier to administer, “as every voter has the same ballot, and geographic confusion is avoided.”

Coun. Bill Jeffrey spoke out in favour of retaining the current system. “I think it’s good to have a ward system,” he said. “A lot of people still use the old ward names.”

Another reform option considered by Scott was reducing the size of Council.

“With fewer members on council there is a budget savings, however there are also fewer people available to share the workload,” Scott wrote in her report. “The mayor and deputy mayor are involved with extra duties at the county level and that leaves three council members to share the township workload. As well, it may be more difficult to have quorum when unexpected events occur.”

According to her report, two fewer members of Council would reduce the annual Council budget by approximately $17,256.

Coun. Cathy Barker initially suggested reducing the size of Council. “I would encourage the other councillors and mayor and deputy mayor to look at other municipalities before we go to a public meeting, and look at their populations and the number of people that make up their council,” she said Tuesday.

Coun. Sam Corriveau said he wasn’t sure a reduction of bodies on council, even if it saved some budget dollars, would be in the best interest of the municipality. He was also hesitant to consider having the deputy mayor position determined by an at large vote. “If you had two or three people who wanted to run for deputy mayor, you could lose good people” who could have sat on Council, he said.

As of now, no public meeting to discuss Perth South electoral reform has been set.

Perth South Notes

– Automated recycling collection in Perth South begins on Oct. 31. “They’re going to be delivering bins soon,” Director of Public Works Ken Bettles told Council Tuesday. For more information, visit PerthSouth.ca/content/garbage-collection.

– Perth South’s new co-op student Courtney, who attends Mitchell District High School, had her first day Tuesday. She’ll be working mornings at the municipal office until January, and for now is focusing on helping the municipality improve its website.

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