On the need for an Electoral Review

During the 2010 election, one of the issues that distinguished me from other candidates was my position on the need for East Gwillimbury to conduct an electoral review. I have not wavered from that position, and indeed, over the past 3 years, I have consistently advocated for it.

As you may have read in the local media, there was recent discussion about a need for Council to revisit its composition. A motion was put forward that would have added 2 Councillors during the 2014 election. I did not support this resolution because I felt it was proposing a solution to a problem we had yet to identify or study.

It is my opinion that before we make any changes to Council’s composition, we need to have an open and frank discussion with members of the public and other stakeholders about what a new Council should look like. We need to engage residents about their expectations and needs, and any changes we make need to be mindful, measured and communicated well in advance.

Just as we make plans to address growth in our municipality, such as Master Plans in areas like Recreation, Emergency Services, Water/Wastewater and Libraries, so too should we examine our system of governance. Whether it’s the addition of members of Council, a ward system, an elected Deputy Mayor, or something entirely different, we need to be transparent about our options, the discussion, and the decision.

Another consideration in this issue is timing. While we know that growth is inevitable and imminent, the waves of new residents have yet to arrive. We are told that occupancy of new homes will begin in 2015, partway through the next term of Council. By 2018, the transformation of our Town will be well underway, and it would make sense to address any need for change at that time.

On October 7th, I put forward the following resolution:

“WHEREAS The Town of East Gwillimbury is poised to experience significant change and growth in virtually every aspect of the community, and has therefore undertaken significant planning exercises to prepare;

AND WHEREAS the Council of the Town of East Gwillimbury is the smallest allowable under the Municipal Act, and has not reviewed its structures since 1971 when the Regional Municipality of York Region and the Town of East Gwillimbury were created;

AND WHEREAS a February 2011 decision of the Ontario Municipal Board confirmed the need for the Town to undertake a comprehensive electoral review, noting, “It is clear that the Town is moving in a direction and to a state of development and maturation that will necessitate a sincere review and forthright assessment of its electoral system”;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT the Council of the Town of East Gwillimbury wishes to undertake a comprehensive review of its electoral system including number of councillors, system of representation and any other pertinent factors, with the intention of implementing any proposed changes for the 2018 election; and

THAT the review be structured to incorporate innovative public consultation as well as with other stakeholders such as Council members and town staff in the hopes that such a review will renew and improve voter engagement for present and future residents; and

THAT staff be directed to initiate the first phases of this project as part of the 2014 budget and work plan.”

My Council colleagues did not share my position, and the motion was not seconded, so no vote took place. I’m disappointed, because I think that we are doing ourselves and our community a disservice. Our present electoral system was established over 40 years ago, and we should be asking ourselves if it continues to deliver the level of service our residents deserve and have come to expect.