When Lethbridge residents hit the polls for the municipal election on Oct. 18, they won’t just be voting for councillors and a new mayor.
On Tuesday, city council voted 8-1 in favour of including a question on this fall’s ballots that reads: “Do you support using a ward system to elect city councillors (other than the mayor) starting with the 2025 municipal election?”
The results of the vote are non-binding and the next step would be in the hands of the incoming members of council.
It’s a discussion that’s popped up before in the city, and Coun. Jeff Coffman — who brought the motion forward on Tuesday — believes the concept makes sense.
“Geographically — north, south, west — it’s how we identify to people where we live,” Coffman said. “You look at some of the social division of those areas as well.
“Ultimately, it’s about strengthening the relationship between the voter and their representative.”
Lethbridge cracked 100,000 residents in 2019 and continues to grow, but Coffman says it’s not so much about population as it is accountability.
“Right now we’re representing everybody in the community, but it’s not a strong relationship with the voter.
“A ward system creates that stronger relationship. You know exactly who your representative is,” he said.
“Right now it’s more of a shotgun approach and there’s no necessity for me to respond to you. In a ward system, I better.”
University of Lethbridge political science professor Geoffrey Hale says it’s the right time to have the conversation.
“Do you have communities of interest in different parts of the city that could be represented better on an individual level, rather than an at-large basis?
“I think Lethbridge has gotten to the point that you can fairly raise that question,” Hale said.
The lone vote against was from Coun. Joe Mauro on Tuesday, who said he was concerned that those voting wouldn’t have enough information to make an informed decision. He also said he doesn’t believe there would be adequate representation of the community, due to low voter turnout.
“You know that historically we get, what, 30 per cent voter turnout?” Mauro said.
“If I could sit here and know full well that there was going to be 80 or 90 per cent of our voters come to vote, I would support this.”
Hale says voter turnout should not be an excuse.
“Representation tends to be better for people who show up to vote, and that’s true in federal, provincial or municipal politics,” Hale said.
“So if you care, get off your butt and vote.”
According to the city, the city clerk’s office will provide information for voters on the city’s website ahead of the upcoming election.