By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Residents only have a few more weeks to share their thoughts on a new ward system that will divide the city come the 2018 election.
The process has been ongoing for months, with consultants busy talking with staff and councillors, as well as hosting sparsely attended public open houses for residents looking to get a little more informed.
For those who haven’t attended a meeting, here’s a closer look at each of the options consultants are proposing for Oshawa.
In total, there are 12 different proposed boundary models that divide the city up into five, 10, or what the consultants are calling “mixed ward” models.
The number of councillors is also up in the air as council has the option to increase or decrease the number of people at the table. However, the provincial Municipal Act stipulates council can be no smaller than five members.
During public consultation, residents appear to be heavily in favour of a five-ward model.
In terms of dividing the city up into five sections, council has a series of options as to how the size of council could be configured to fit such a system. First, the overall size of council could be left the same (10 councillors) and the two regional councillors who are losing their seats at the regional table following the 2018 elections would become city councillors. This would leave five city and five regional councillors, with each ward getting one city and one regional representative.
The consultant’s preliminary report notes this is a strong possibility with no change to council budgets or salaries, no need to modify council chambers and it provides equal representation for all wards while increasing accountability. However, the report notes the option does make for larger, more diverse wards, which could be a challenge for councillors.
Alternatively, the size of council could be cut to six (five regional councillors and the mayor) with one councillor for each ward. Consultants note that while this could have the net effect of reducing council salaries and simplifies representation with one councillor in each ward, it would create weaker representation, weaker accountability, and a “large increase in councillor workload,” which may lead to more staff required to assist.
On the other hand, the size of council could be increased to elect two city councillors per ward and one city/regional councillors, creating a 15-member council. This option could strengthen representation for residents and increase accountability along with full representation for all parts of the city, it would call for an increase in council salaries (five additional councillors) and would require modification to the existing council chambers.
With any of the 10-ward system proposals, there is also a call to increase the number of councillors. The consultant’s report proposes an increase in the number of city councillors from the current three to 10, along with five regional councillors.
This would create a system where each city councillor would be elected in a single ward, with each of the five regional councillors elected in what would be a “Regional Ward” made up of two city wards.
Similar to the options in the five-ward proposals, the consultants suggest that while an increase in the number of councillors would allow for strengthened accountability and better representation, those benefits could be offset by the increase in council salary and support budgets.
Mixed Ward Model
Due to the region’s decision to transfer two seats away from Oshawa at the regional table following the 2018 municipal elections, Oshawa has the option to get rid of those positions all together, effectively reducing its council size from 10 to eight.
If they chose to do this, it is the mixed option that would need to be put into place to provide some measure of effective representation for residents. It would be complicated though, consultants state.
“That determination would require two separate or somehow inter-connected ward configurations, one to elective five regional and city councillors and the other to elect the three city councillors,” the report reads. “Conceptually, this option is more complicated than the others since the two ward configurations must be blended together.”
This is a “less desirable” system, the report continues, noting it will likely confuse residents with overlapping wards, which may offset any benefit in the reduction of salaries by removing the two council positions.
While each of the proposed models only depict three-ward options, it is noted that one of the former five-ward models would need to be adopted and placed over top as a “regional ward” system.