Mayoral candidate Rob Wickson, long time president of the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, would be open to the introduction of a ward system. Submitted

Saanich mayoral candidate open to the idea of wards

Rob Wickson says it would be an “interesting question” to explore, while hedging his bets

Saanich mayoral candidate Rob Wickson is open to exploring the introduction of a ward system, he told residents during the municipality’s first all-candidates’ forum.

“That would be an interesting question to explore,” Wickson said, Thursday. “I would love to hear what people thought about that.”

However, Wickson quickly tempered expectations. “I prefer to talk about how we actually build a system that has us all working together towards a common goal.”

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Wickson said the municipality already has an embryonic ward system through its community associations, which represent different parts of Saanich.

The question then becomes whether these different parts of Saanich receive direct representation through a genuine ward system or through councillors serving as liaisons to the various community associations, as is the case in the City of Victoria.

The idea of individual councillors working with community associations has circulated for some time. It appears in the report of the governance review citizen advisory committee and was raised again by Rebecca Mersereau, a Saanich council candidate, during Thursday’s forum.

A ward system would mark a major departure from recent practices, but also mark a return to the past, as Saanich used a similar model between 1908 and 1949.

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Currently, residents elect eight council members independently of any geographic conditions.

A ward system would divide any municipality into a number of sub-municipal units or wards, with each ward electing a single council member, following an internal run-off.

Political scientists have argued that wards improve geographic representation and increase political participation in giving voice to groups previously excluded. Critics argue that wards unnecessarily sharpen political conflicts.

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Two of Canada’s three major cities — Toronto and Montreal — operate on a ward system, while Vancouver had a ward system until 1936, when voters endorsed at-large elections following a plebiscite.

In 1982 and 1988, more than half of Vancouver voters approved a return to a ward system, but these attempts fell short of the 60 per cent majority then required by the Vancouver Charter. A third referendum in 2004 also failed, with 54 per cent opposed to wards.

Vancouver’s rejection of wards speaks to British Columbia’s exceptionalism when it comes to wards, as every major Canadian city outside of Vancouver has a ward system.

Nanaimo had a ward system from about 1974 to 1984, but abandoned it.

Subject to the approval of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, municipalities may pass a bylaw that would allow neighbourhoods to elect all or some members of council, but the number of municipalities who have availed themselves of this ability is singular.

A Union of British Columbia Municipalities report titled Local Government in British Columbia from the states only the district of Lake Country currently operates under a ward system.

Provincial legislators have also investigated the issue, but rejected a private members’ bill in favour of wards in 1982.

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