The ward system may be coming to Surrey, given that the three main contenders for the mayor’s chair are prepared to move in that direction.
There has always been a criticism of the ward system, and that was a factor in it being abolished in Surrey in 1957.
Some residents felt that councillors were too busy looking after their own ward, which for many years meant steering money towards roads or water lines in their area (in particular) and not looking out for the whole community.
Virtually every other large city in Canada outside B.C. has wards. In Ontario, which just had a municipal election, most cities of any significant size, such as Kingston or St. Catharines, have wards.
There does not seem to be any significant problems with councillors not looking out for the whole city in those more compact cities, but there are tensions at times in large cities.
In Toronto, this was at least part of the drive behind Rob Ford’s successful election to the mayor’s chair four years ago, and it is significant that he was easily re-elected to council in his old ward in the election on Monday night.
In Surrey today, the major issues are policing, transportation and providing enough civic facilities and infrastructure for a growing population.
Most of these are issues which require a more city-wide focus, although there could be competition for which transportation or infrastructure project would be the highest priority, between councillors representing different wards.
The size of the ward and number of councillors elected in each ward would be a factor.
Doug McCallum’s proposal calls for four larger wards with two councillors each. Barinder Rasode favours a hybrid system, with some councillors elected at large and some in wards.
Both of those systems help to deal with another common concern – could citizens go to another councillor for help if they do not get satisfaction from the councillor elected in their ward?
Would that councillor simply refer them back to the one elected in their ward.
Two councillors per ward or a hybrid system would provide options for citizens. In addition, the response received would almost certainly dependent on the individual councillor.
Some are very receptive to helping out citizens – others are not.
Linda Hepner of Surrey First is the most lukewarm towards wards, but she is prepared to put the issue to referendum in 2018. That may be the best way to continue the discussion, as a referendum would allow for more detailed research into just how a ward system would serve Surrey’s needs.
As noted here before, my thoughts on wards are that it would make it much easier for candidates to campaign; it would boost voter turnout because there would be fewer names on the ballot; and it could actually allow independent candidates a decent chance to be elected.
However, the whole picture includes how an elected councillor best serves citizens, when elected in a geographical area of the city.
In addition, all members of council need to think of Surrey as more than just a sum made up of various geographic parts of the city. Narrow parochialism does not serve a large and fast-growing city well.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.