OPINION: Public should be consulted on electoral reform

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By Nick Seebruch
OPINION: Public should be consulted on electoral reform
A ballot box

Cornwall Council is considering holding public engagement on electoral reform in the City. I think that it is always good to review our representatives and review the way we elect them. With all of the flak I see directed at Council on social media, I hope the residents of Cornwall take this opportunity to weigh-in on its future.

The public engagement that Council is proposing is to test the waters and to see how the public would feel about shrinking the size of Council and moving to a ward system.

First of all, taxpayers should know that the price of this public consultation would be around $10,570, which might seem like a lot, but if it does lead to a smaller council, there are your savings right there.

A smaller council size I think makes sense for Cornwall. We are a city of 47,000 people, yet we have 10 councillors plus a mayor. Keep in mind however, that each councillor sits on multiple committees in addition to attending conferences and events on behalf of the city.

With less councillors, I believe that the number of committees will have to be streamlined, which could be a good thing. The City often has difficulties in filling all of the vacancies on every committee, so if fewer councillors leads the City to reduce the number of municipal committees, that might work out well for everyone.

Our Council members are not paid very much, around $18,000 a year, but still, fewer councillors would be a savings.

If the public is in favour of reducing the size of council and know all of the benefits and costs of doing so, the question then is, how many councillors do we need?

Belleville, a city similar in size to Cornwall and one we are often compared to, has eight councillors and a Mayor. This is two fewer councillors than what Cornwall already has, and I think that incremental change would be the right call. 

I would not want to see the number of Councillors drastically cut down to six or four because we would feel the difference and it would be negative, I think. With that few number of councillors, you might as well make it their full-time job and give them full-time salaries because the increased workload would be significant.

Belleville, in addition to having fewer councillors, is also on a ward system, the other item that the public will be considering in consultations.

Cornwall formerly had a ward system, and during the last election, candidates told me that this was an issue that they were hearing as they campaigned door-to-door.

At first, I saw some merits to a ward system. Wards would give a greater voice to the neighbourhoods of Cornwall. Wards would also ensure that more people would have the opportunity to run for council and stand a better chance of winning. As it is right now, a significant number of councillors are from one neighbourhood in the city.

I don’t think however that these advantages out weigh the potential drawbacks of a ward system. I believe that wards would lead to a more fractious council, and it would be harder to get things done. Wards would incentivize the councillors elected from those communities to priorities their neighbourhood over the good of the city. Cornwall is a small city and often, our interests overlap, so why divide us into wards and create discord where there is none? I know that at least three councillors have stated publicly their opposition to a wards system.

Final thought, no matter your views on these proposed reforms to our local democracy, get out and get your voice heard at these public consultations. I stated earlier that I see a lot of opinions and passion on social media when it comes to discussing our City Council. Hopefully that passion will lead people to go out and give informed input on how their representatives are elected.

What do you think readers? Should council size shrink? Should we return to a wards system? Email your Letter to the Editor to nseebruch@seawaynews.media

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