BY ANDREW SMITH
LISTOWEL – North Perth council has put another long-standing question to rest, ending the debate over whether a voting at large system should be used for all council members.
The discussion was brought forward at the Feb. 3 meeting, with a report from clerk Pat Berfelz reminding council of the requirements for putting a question on the ballot under the Municipal Elections Act.
Under the act, council must hold a public meeting prior to passing a bylaw to add a question to the ballot, and public notice of the question must be given 190 days prior to the municipal election on Monday, Oct. 27.
Berfelz also advised council that the result of the question on the ballot is only legally binding if 50 per cent of eligible voters respond, and if more than 50 per cent of those voters are in favour of dissolving the ward system in North Perth. In the 2010 municipal election, North Perth’s voter turnout was 39 per cent.
“It’s very rare that any municipality gets a 50 per cent voter turnout, even with a question,” Mayor Julie Behrns noted.
Coun. Matt Richardson said it would be prudent to put the question to the voters of North Perth, and decide whether a ward system or voting at large is preferred once and for all.
“This council sits and represents the entire municipality, and I think every member of the municipality should have the option to choose every single one of us that sits up here,” Richardson said. “I think the question needs to go to them.”
Coun. Dave Ludington expressed his strong opposition to voting at large, saying it would result in a loss of council representation for rural residents. Coun. Warren Howard agreed that Listowel voters would outweigh the voice of rural voters.
“Even though I represent the Listowel ward, I think the makeup of this council represents a compromise between the three constituent parts,” Howard said. “This would end up being the voters of Listowel controlling council, as far as I can see.”
Coun. Paul Horn was in support of putting the question on the ballot, but questioned the validity of reaching 50 per cent of the voter population. Horn suggested that if council proceeds with the question, they commit to the result.
“What I’m saying is if we actually go to the trouble of making the question, that council accept the answer, regardless of whether a 50 per cent turnout happens or not,” he said. “I think it’s important if you go to the trouble of asking the question that you listen to the answer.”
A motion was put forward by Horn and seconded by Richardson, but ultimately defeated. Behrns reminds residents they are not limited to their elected members of council if they have a question or complaint.
“People can phone any councilor, it doesn’t have to be from their ward,” Behrns said. “They are more than welcome to contact any member of council.”