scuttlebutt, cornwall, ontario

City divided on wards

Image of Nick Seebruch
By Nick Seebruch
City divided on wards
A ballot box

CORNWALL, Ontario – After conducting a survey over the summer on electoral reform, Cornwall City Council has learned that the responding residents were mixed on reintroducing a ward based election system.

The City mailed out 2,000 surveys to random Cornwall addresses, as well, they invited online survey submissions.

In total, they received 554 paper responses, and 1,210 online responses. Of the 1,764 total responses, 1,750 were in English and 14 were in French. The number of respondents represents around seven per cent of the 12,488 registered voters who voted in the last municipal election in 2018.

When asked if they preferred Cornwall to return to a ward system, 51.4 per cent were in favour, and 48.5 per cent were opposed.

When asked how they felt about the size of Council, the majority of respondents, 43.6 were in favour of cutting the number of councillors by two down to eight, 35.7 per cent were in favour of cutting four councillors to six, and 20.5 were in favour of keeping the same number of councillors.

At their meeting on Monday, Sept. 28, Cornwall Councillor Justin Towndale  put forward a motion to cut the size of council from 10 to eight. Towndale pointed to other similar sized municipalities that had smaller councils to support his motion.

Councillor Glenn Grant expressed his skepticism at cutting the size of council.

“It is a popular thing to say to reduce it to eight, but give me the solid evidence of the benefits of going from 10 to eight, and right now I don’t see it,” Councillor Grant said.

Councillor Claude McIntosh was also skeptical, and felt the issue of wards should be addressed first.

“I think we are putting the cart before the horse. I think we should discuss wards, and then how many people will represent them,” he said. “65 per cent of people in this town couldn’t care less, because that’s how many don’t come out and vote. To say someone is disenfranchised . . . if someone wanted to reach out and pick up the phone, we’re here. We have trouble getting people to committee meetings as it is so we are going to take that work and divide it by eight.”

Councillor Carilyne Hébert proposed that wards were not the solution for better representation.

“I’m not opposed to eight councillors, but I would like to see the position re-evaluated completely. There is a lot of work, and there are 10 of us, but we are tackling it in a part-time way.  A lot of voters expect us to treat this like a full-time position, but it is paid less than many minimum wage workers,” she said. “I would be in favour of a portfolio system. Each of us would either have a department we work closer with or a file we work closer with.”

On the issue of the size of Council, Councillor Elaine MacDonald put forward a motion to defer the decision until administration could provide more information on the effects of reducing the size of council, which passed.

Councillor put forward a motion to hold a town hall discussion on a ward system to engage with the public, which also passed.

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