In addition to voting for the mayor and councillors, voters will have the choice to vote for or against adopting a ward system in the city at the municipal election on Oct. 24.
On the ballot, voters can vote on the following resolution: “That the City of Moose Jaw be divided into Wards for the election of six city councillors beginning with the 2016 Municipal Elections.”
“Assuming that there’s a positive vote on the referendum question on the 24th, council would pass a resolution adopting that motion and would give direction to administration to proceed with preparing to implement it for the following election which would be the 2016 election,” said city clerk-solicitor Myron Gulka-Tiechko.
If implemented, each voter would vote for the mayor and for a candidate for council to represent his or her ward. In total, there would be six wards and the councillors elected from each of the six wards would make up city council.
Gulka-Tiechko said candidates running for a specific ward would not have to live within the set boundaries.
“Legislation dictates that (candidates) can live anywhere in the city, but they would be elected essentially to represent a ward,” he said. “To run for council, you’d have to be a resident of the city. That is required, but you don’t necessarily have to live in the ward you’d represent.”
Further, Gulka-Tiechko said if the ward system is voted in, it has to be run for at least two elections.
He said at least a year before the ward system would be implemented, council would have to appoint a boundaries commission consisting of the city clerk, generally a judge from the Court of Queen’s Bench and one other person.
The commission will sit down and decide how the wards would be drawn based on population statistics. The legislation allows for up to 10 per cent variance in dividing wards with some areas with a bit lower population. In total, there would be six wards and he said the voters would vote for a candidate to represent them in their specific ward.
“Whatever the population is, you basically divide by six,” said Gulka-Tiechko. “Generally, it’s dividing of the pie.”
Six months before the election, if the system is adopted, the boundaries commission would have to file what the wards would look like to be made available for public comment.
“We have to review those boundaries every few years to ensure that they’re keeping pace with the development of the city,” said Gulka-Tiechko. “Generally, it’s made available for discussion with the public.”
He said the commission will try to block areas of the city with a lot in common and try to draw boundaries in the community. For example, if Caribou Street was used as a dividing line, there would be three wards south of Caribou and three wards north of Caribou.
“That’s simply an example,” said Gulka-Tiechko. “We’d have to work out specific details of the population in the area to come up with actual boundaries.”
He added that there is no evidence, to his knowledge, of the ward system increasing or decreasing voter turnout. The ward system is used in most cities, including Prince Albert, Regina and Saskatoon. However, B.C. cities don’t use the ward system, but use the at-large system that is currently in place in Moose Jaw.
“These systems work in different ways in any number of cities,” said Gulka-Tiechko. “They’re all workable. It’s just what the preference of the population is.”
Prince Albert city clerk Cliff Skauge said the ward system has been in place in P.A. for 20 years. There are eight wards in that city.
“The councillor represents the wards and they bring issues from the wards that they’re representing over to council for consideration,” said Skauge. “It could be budgetary issues and things like that.”
He said the ward boundaries are bound by legislation to be reviewed every nine years. If the boundaries are deemed to be imbalanced, a new commission must be establish to balance it out.
“As far as I’m concerned there’s no issues in Prince Albert (with the ward system),” said Skauge. “It’s part of the way the city operates and we have our eight members and we conduct our elections accordingly.”