We don't have a ward system – and that's good
By: Jared Milne
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013 06:00 am
I recently had an interesting conversation with Coun Cam MacKay. He told me about how many residents have told him that they wanted to contact their members of council, but werenít sure which city ward they live in and which member represents them. This is surprising, considering that we donít have a ward system in St. Albert.
Larger cities like Edmonton and Calgary have divided themselves into a series of wards, which are similar to provincial or federal ridings. In a municipal election, each of these wards elects one or two people, and all of the people elected in each ward combine to form the city council. The mayor is the only council member elected by the population as a whole.
This system has a few disadvantages, notably that councillors in one ward are not accountable to the voters in other wards. Different parts of a city can have policies forced on them by the rest of council, even when their own ward representative votes against it. Even if Ward 3 is the only part of the city affected by a particular policy, the councillors for Wards 4, 5 and 6 could still vote for it and the residents of Ward 3 will be powerless to stop them. After all, why should the representatives of Wards 4, 5 and 6 care what the voters of Ward 3 have to say?
The difference between a municipal ward system and a federal or provincial legislature is that federal members of Parliament (MPs) and provincial members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are usually members of a political party that runs candidates across the country or the province. When they vote on legislation, MPs and MLAs often have to take into account what voters outside their own ridings are saying.
Even if they are not accountable to those other voters, their party will probably be running candidates in those other votersí ridings in the next election. The candidates in those other votersí ridings will need the votersí support to get elected, and the voters probably wonít support them if they donít like what the partyís already done. Thatís why MPs and MLAs who are already in office have to balance what their own constituents have to say along with what voters in other potential ridings are thinking.
The danger of ward systems is that they reduce the accountability of politicians, since they can cast ballots affecting the interests of people who did not vote for them. Because political parties need to get candidates elected across the province or country, MPs and MLAs have an incentive to pay attention to what voters in other ridings are thinking. A municipal politician in a ward system, on the other hand, can get elected in his own ward without ever having to face the voters in the rest of the community.
St. Albertís system is better, because all the members of council are accountable to everyone in the city. Come election time, everyone can vote for the mayor and up to six council candidates of their choice. This means that anyone running for council has to take the interests of the entire city into account, and not just one part of it. It leads to more democracy, and more accountability.
So, if you have something to say to council, which member should you contact? The answer is simple: All of them!
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.