Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why the Ward System is Best...and why then did city council want the general vote

Why did the general vote question arise out of the blue from the politicians? Why did council not provide information about the change to every household? Why did council not make this an important issue for public debate before the vote? What are the benefits to Oshawa of the change? What is the rationale for the change? Why did some council members press so hard for the change?...How will the change help Oshawa? Why? Why? Why? Too many questions….and not one answer!

Why did council ask the plebiscite and not tell us any of the aforementioned details. The answer is easy...They wanted the general vote because it insures incumbent's re-election and so they designed a difficult and convoluted question that nobody understood, kept the question as quiet as they could to avoid public discourse and discussion, and kept the question secret to confront voters for the first time in the voting booth. Realizing that "YES" answers are more likely from those who don't understand the question, they designed a question where a "YES" vote favoured a rejection of the ward system...a system that no one had publicly faulted. They did all this because they wanted a system that served politicians rather than the people. The Mayor even stated publicly that it was not city council's responsibility to inform the public about details of the question council itself had decided to ask voters. Incredible! If council wanted a considered and accurate measure on the question, they would have provided information. Because council didn't provide the information, they showed they didn't care about an accurate measure of public opinion...they just cared about introducing a voting system that would serve their personal interests...and so they designed a strategy to fool voters into giving politicians the answer they wanted... Incredulous!

Even more important--- politicians knew that there was no justification beyond their political self interest for asking the question and implementing the general vote and that no student of Canadian Municipal Politics could ever be convinced that it was best for large cities like Oshawa.

In Niagara Falls, Ontario, during a 2000 ballot pebiscite, the majority of citizens voted in favour of retaining the ward system. But because less than 50% of eligible voters turned out at the polls, the city council was legally able to ignore the results of the plebiscite. They ignored the plebiscite because they favored the general vote. Here in Oshawa, politicians supported the non-binding plebescite result because they favoured a change to the general vote. In 1985, Oshawa City Council ignored a plebiscite favoring ward voting because they wanted to retain the general vote. How politicians handle non-binding plebiscites has nothing to do with democratically upholding the public will but rather what action supports Council's desired outcome.

A citizen group in Niagara Falls developed and published a document listing 99 reasons to keep the ward system. Excerpted here are 29 solid reasons that pertain to Guelph...and to Oshawa

You may also be interested to read the rationale for suggesting the general vote for London by its prime mover, Councillor Rocco Furfaro. You'll see that they are about as significant as Oshawa Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki's rationale for suggesting the plebiscite question for Oshawa.


1. Every area of the city deserves equal representation.
2. The ward system encourages councillors to become fully knowledgeable about the area they represent.
3. Running in a ward makes councillors more accountable to neighbourhood voters.
4. The at-large system gives an unfair advantage to wealthy candidates.
5. There is not, nor has there ever been, any public desire to abolish the current ward system.
6. The ward system works. City council has never offered any substantial evidence to the contrary.
7. Your vote carries more weight in ward elections.
8. Without a ward system, local politics will become more remote than ever before.
9. The ward system prevents the undesirable possibility of having all councillors come from the same area of town.
10. A council elected at-large is more susceptible to being influenced by non-territorially based special interest groups.
11. The city is growing and becoming more diverse. A ward system can best accommodate these changes.
12. The ward system gives us a diversity of opinion on council.
13. Election debates are unworkable in an at-large system.
14. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that “the cream rises to the top” in an at-large system.
15. Citizens who need help know exactly who to contact and can hold them directly accountable at election time.
16. Printing election materials and lawn signs for over 60,000 voters would be cost prohibitive.
17. Guelph is too large for councillors to have intimate knowledge of every neighbourhood in the city.
18. Ward elections allow candidates to personally visit each home in the ward, to speak personally with a member of each household they seek to represent.
19. An at-large election system means more candidates and longer ballots. This makes it extremely difficult for voters to thoroughly consider the issues or ask questions of each and every candidate.
20. In a democracy, it is important to make informed decisions. Ward elections, by facilitating face-to-face interaction between voters and candidates, help voters become better-informed.
21. In the at-large system, every councillor will be competing against every other councillor. That makes it more difficult for incumbent councillors to build mutual trust and camaraderie.
22. Federal, provincial, and regional elections are all based on the ward system.
23. In a city of roughly 110,000 people, it simply makes sense to have city politicians take responsibility for neighbourhood problems through a ward system.
24. The trend in Ontario, in Canada, and across North America is towards adopting ward systems.
25. Your councillor likely lives, drives, walks, and shops in your neighborhood. This gives councillors a better understanding of neighbourhood issues and allows them to be proactive in dealing with neighbourhood problems.
26. At-large systems only tend to exist very small homogeneous communities. Guelph does not fit this criteria.
27. Under the at-large system, there is a greater possibility of having a homogeneous group of people representing a heterogeneous city.
28. Newmarket is one of only three medium sized municipalities in Ontario that has an at-large system. The City is currently in the process of adopting a ward system after citizens voted to dump the at-large system in a 2000 referendum.
29. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

There you go don't have to take my word for it that ward voting is best in serving the people. The initiative for change to the general vote comes from politicians who know that it secures and guarantees their political futures. Their private rationale is for a "self-serving" election system but their publicly stated rationale always falls far short of a full load. Why? Because a return to the general vote cannot be justified on any grounds by any thinking person. There simply is no public benefit of the general vote...but there are a number of deficits which have been cited in various posts on this site.