Lethbridge City Council on Tuesday voted 6-3 in favour of proceeding with forming a commission to undertake detailed analysis and engagement to possibly implement a Ward Electoral System in time for the 2025 municipal election.
Once formed, the commission of public members with related backgrounds, along with appropriate non-voting supporting resources, will review whether or not to recommend to Council that a ward system be implemented. Through their work, the commission could also suggest other recommendations to improve Lethbridge's political system.
The commission's timeframe to compile a report of recommendations is suggested from November 2022 to November 2023. It is anticipated that the report of recommendations would be an extensive document to include details of all the analysis, engagement, options, rationale, and recommendations including a ward system model, maps, populations and a draft of the Electoral Ward Boundary Bylaw. Council will then consider the Commission's recommendations.
"Examining a potential Election Ward System was identified by Council in its Gateway to Opportunity 2022 Action Plan," says Acting Mayor Belinda Crowson, who brought the motion forward following discussion at Governance Standing Policy Committee on May 26. "Through the process and report, Council can then identify if this is something we want to move forward with."
"This commission would report to council and would offer public transparency in the process – to ensure that a neutral, resident-led third party makes the recommendations to council," says City Clerk Bonnie Hilford.
The City of Lethbridge currently conducts 'at-large' elections where the electors of the whole city elect all eight Councillors for the whole city. For the 2021 municipal election, the Returning Officer was directed by Council to add a non-binding ballot question: "Do you support using a Ward System to elect City Councillors (other than the Mayor) starting with the 2025 municipal election?" – meaning replace the current 'at-large' electoral system for electing Councillors with 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.
The election results showed that of 55.69 per cent of votes said 'yes' while 44.31 per cent said 'no.' Ahead of the election, information was provided on the ward system for education and awareness for the electors to vote on the ballot question.
Should Council decide to proceed with a Ward Electoral System, implementation will need to be in place well in advance of January 2025, when the process commences for candidates to file nomination papers for the 2025 Municipal Election. Implementation would include adoption of the new Electoral Ward Boundary Bylaw by Council, subsequent amendments to the Election Bylaw, education of the public on the new ward system and preparation and revisions for the upcoming 2025 Municipal Election.
As part of Tuesday's motion, Council approved a one-time budget of up $297,000, with $250,000 from 2019-2022 N-87 – Implementation of Governance Review Recommendations and $47,000 from Governance Standing Policy Committee BAU (unspent operating dollars).
Edmonton and Calgary are the only urban municipalities in Alberta with a ward system. There are three in Saskatchewan none in British Columbia.