In a democracy, choice is a good thing and St. Albertans have no shortage of choice this election.
With so many candidates running for council this year – 28 if you include mayoral candidates – some have wondered if it is time for St. Albert to consider a ward system.
Certainly when we look at this election it would be easier to only have to keep track of those running in your ward. But would a ward system really be an improvement for democracy in St. Albert?
Ward systems can be effective in cities with larger populations – like Edmonton or Calgary – or in places that cover a large area, such as Sturgeon County or the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. St. Albert has neither of those characteristics.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to having a ward system. Some residents might prefer having a representative that lives in or near their neighbourhood, that knows the issues in the area. Many people already prefer to vote this way and a ward system would reinforce this further.
In Edmonton, 11 of the 12 wards have populations bigger than the city of St. Albert. Each of these wards is like a city within a city, yet the people in each ward have just one councillor representing them, while the citizens of St. Albert have six.
Having a ward system can also be divisive, as those who are elected may only look after the interests of their own area and not do what’s best for the city as a whole. In a city of our size, that simply wouldn’t make for good governance. Many would say that our city council is divisive enough without having councillors entrenched in a particular geographical area. We need people who are looking after the interests of everyone, not any one particular neighbourhood or part of the city.
Even if you like the idea of having a councillor responsible for your neighbourhood, there is no guarantee that he or she won’t be simply by outvoted by the other members of council. It also can create an accountability problem, because that councillor is only accountable to people in their ward despite making decisions that affect the entire city. In a city of our size, that could create big problems.
In our city, all council members are tasked with all areas of the city. There may be a lot of candidates this year, but that is certainly preferable to having little to no choice, as we’ve seen in neighbouring municipalities. With our current population, wards would only divide us. As a city we are better together.