Sign In

Question on the 2021 Municipal Ballot-Ward System

Do you support using a Ward system to elect City Councillors (other than the Mayor) starting with the 2025 municipal election?


The City of Lethbridge conducts 'at-large' elections where the electors of the whole City elect all the Councillors for the whole City.  Voters choose eight Councillors from an extensive list of candidates to represent the entire City.  The eight with the most votes are elected.  During the 2021 General Municipal Election, the above question will be asked . . . meaning to do you want to move away from the current 'at-large' electoral system for electing Councillors to a 'ward' electoral system, where the City is divided into smaller geographical electoral areas (wards) and electors would vote from a smaller list of candidates for a Councillor that wants to represent the ward that you live in.

'At-Large' versus Ward Electoral Systems of Councillor Representation

The distinction between the two systems is primarily based on the way the City is organized to elect the Councillors.

In the at-large system, the City is a single electoral district in which all eligible voters within the City boundaries vote on the same list of candidates.

In the ward system, the City is divided into a number of smaller geographic electoral areas (wards), generally with equal populations, not necessarily area size.  Electors living in each ward vote from a list of candidates in their geographic electoral area (ward) whom they feel will best represent their area of the City.  Essentially, the ward system is similar to the current provincial electoral system in which each MLA represents a specific riding.

It is important to note that the method of election for the Mayor is not included, and will continue to be a separate at-large vote.


At-Large System Considerations
Ward System Considerations
​Each Councillor has a City-wide focus, mandate and outlook.
Views the City's needs as a whole, focuses on City-wide issues, particularly budgetary ones, and makes balanced decisions about services affecting all parts of the City.
​Each Councillor is primarily focused on their ward, and their ward's mandate and outlook.

Each area and all neighbourhoods of the City has distinct representation.
​Electors vote for all Councillor positions in the City.
​Electors do not vote for all Councillor positions, only for their ward representative(s).
​All Councillors are accountable and must be accessible to all residents of the City (the entire electorate).  Every Councillor represents everybody in the City.

Councillors must be familiar with all City issues, needs, problems, and concerns.
​Each Councillor is accountable and must be accessible to all residents in their ward.

Councillors must be familiar with their  ward issues, needs, problems and concerns as well as those facing the City.
​Broader community responsibilities for all Councillors.
​Division of responsibilities among members, reflective of their wards.
​City staff engage all Councillors on all maters in the City.
​City staff would engage the respective ward Councillor(s) on neigbhourhood issues in their ward.
​No additional costs - status quo.
​Additional cost unknown - would depend on final structure and support required.

Software would need to be developed to designate and map each ward.
​Ward boundaries are not required.
​The process for dividing the City into wards (defining the ward boundaries) will need to be decided by Council, and the ward boundaries will need to be adopted by Council, as per bylaw.

Ward boundaries will need to be reviewed periodically (i.e. every second term) to stay in step with demographic shifts and population changes.
​Councillors must live in the City.
​Councillors are not required to be a resident for the ward they run in; anyone living in Lethbridge may run in any ward.
​Large number of candidates on the ballot.

Acclamations* are unlikely.
"When at the close of nominations the number of persons nominated for any office is the same as the number required to be elected, the Returning Officer shall declare the persons nominated to be elected to the offices for which they were nominated."
​Smaller number of candidates on the ballot.

Acclamations" are possible.
"When at the close of nominations the number of persons nominated for any office is the same as the number required to be elected, the Returning Officer shall declare the persons nominated to be elected to the offices for which they were nominated."
​Electors can vote anywhere during elections.
​Electors would be required to vote in their wards (no voting anywhere) during elections.  Voters will need to know what ward they live in.
​City-wide campaigning is more expensive and takes more effort.
​Ward campaigns are less expensive and take less effort since the number of people and the physical area is smaller.

​All 8 Councillors - At-Large

  • all 8 Councillors accountable to all 100,000 plus residents
  • each Councillor would represent the entire City
  • residents would approach any or all 8 Councillors with their concerns (see below Visual #1)
​There are many variations of a ward system.  Below are some examples, but not all, and the boundaries depicted in the visuals are only for example purposes only.  In some cases, the system of representation includes more than one Councillor per ward, in other cases a hybrid, or combination, of a ward and an at-large system.  Exercising the authority to adopt a new system, the boundaries of that system, and number of Councillors assigned per ward is at Council's discretion.

8 Councillors - 8 Wards

  • Each of the 8 Councillors would be accountable to the approximately 12,750 residents in their ward
  • Each Councillor would represent one ward
  • Residents would approach their ward Councillor, their own individual representative, with their concerns (see below Visual #2)

8 Councillors - 3 Wards

  • Each of the eight Councillors would be accountable to the approximately 28,000 - 40,000 residents in their ward.
  • 2-3 Councillors would represent each Ward
  • Residents would approach any of their ward Councillors, their own individual representatives, with their concerns (see below Visual #3)

Hybrid System

  • 8 Councillors
    • 3 Wards - 5 Councillors
      • Each of the 5 Councillors would be accountable to the approximately 28,000 - 40,000 residents in their ward
      • 1-2 Councillors representing each ward
    • At-Large - 3 Councillors
      • All 3 Councillors are accountable to all 100,000 plus residents
    • Residents would approach any or all 3 at-large Councillors and/or their ward Councillor(s) with their concerns (See below Visual #4)


There is no direction from the Province either through legislation or regulation about the conditions to be met or considered for changing from one system to the other.  While there are clearly differences in the impact of each system, there are no "standard " circumstances that favour one method over the other.  Nor is one system or the other mandatory for particular types of municipalities.  Jurisdictions in Alberta that have a ward system include municipal districts, counties, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Calgary, and Edmonton.

Although there are many exceptions, the move from an at-large to a ward system is usually driven at a certain population threshold.  Generally, an at-large vote system is the most appropriate election method in municipalities where the population is small.  Lethbridge has traditionally been considered "small".  Today the population is over 100,000.  However, there is no conventional benchmark to apply to indicate where a change is appropriate.  For example, there are cities, such as Barrie, Ontario, that have wards with a population as small as 13,000, and also cities, such as Calgary, that have wards with a population as large as 105,365.  There are also cities with at-large systems, such as Vancouver, with populations as large as 675,218.

Ward - Visual 1.jpgWard - Visual 2.jpg

Ward - Visual 3.jpgWard - Visual 4.jpg


For more information about Municipal Election

311