By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The second round of consultations for Oshawa’s future ward system are underway and after getting their first glimpse at the options consultants have in mind, the decision of residents seems to be clear – a five-ward system was vastly in favour.
At the open house, as well as in the pages of a public report released earlier this month, several different options for a new ward system in Oshawa were laid out, with possibilities ranging from three-ward systems, to five wards to as many as 10 wards breaking up the city.
In terms of the five-ward system, consultants presented five different options for what the eventual dividing lines may look like. Three of those options resemble Oshawa’s previous seven-ward system, which was in place prior to a 2006 referendum that saw the city move to an at-large system. These options see large wards in both the north and south ends of the city sandwiching smaller wards that bisect the middle portion. Other options see the city divided into five wards stacked horizontally or five vertical strip wards. From the outset, strip wards have not been a popular option with the public.
“Those aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on,” said Bill Longworth, a former mayoral candidate and long-time advocate of a ward system in the city.
A 10-ward system also drew disdain from those in attendance as it could mean increasing the number of councillors, which would mean more dollars for salaries.
“There are only so many dollars to go around,” said Larry Ladd, an Oshawa resident and dedicated city hall watcher. “When you’ve got five (wards), you’ve got something to work with.”
A three-ward system was also not a popular option as the geographic area and the amount of people inside them would be too much for one councillor to handle.
For consultants Watson and Associatiates and Robert Williams, their preliminary report explains that a five-ward system provides appropriate representation for residents and an increased level of accountability for councillors, but it does create larger wards.
“This could have a negative effect on candidate recruitment and on the interactions between residents and individual councillors,” the report states.
As for the size of council, that question remains unanswered. Councillors currently have the power to increase its numbers in order to accommodate a larger ward system. They also have the option of cutting the number of councillors to six (the smallest council size allowed under the Municipal Act). A six-member council would fit with a five-ward system with the mayor representing and elected at-large.
However, a popular idea floated during the open house was to leave the size of council the same.
This could mean that after Oshawa loses two of its seat at regional council (a result of the restructuring approved in 2016), those two councillors could become solely city representatives. This would allow for one regional and one city councillor in each of the five wards. Nothing has been set in stone at this point.
Following further public open houses and consultations with council, a final report and recommendation is expected to come to council in late May or early June.
“The goal, of course, is to get council to agree to a scenario that the community believes is the right one,” Williams says.
A final public open house is set for Thursday, April 27 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Bobby Orr room of the Civic Recreation Complex.