That grand philosopher, Heraclitus (not the one from Burritt’s Rapids, the Greek one), once said that the only constant thing in life is change. You and I are not the same person we were yesterday, much less ten years ago. North Grenville is certainly not the place it was ten years ago. Even so, we tend to act as if decisions made in the past are sacrosanct, unchangeable. This may be why North Grenville has voted the same party into office in Ontario ever since 1871.
At the same time, we hear from our political reps that we are one of the fastest growing municipalities in the province, although the precise criteria for judging that are a little vague. In the next eighteen months, by November of next year, we will have gone through both a provincial and a municipal election campaign, and the results of one are as uncertain as the results of the other are almost inevitable. It is hardly imaginable that Steve Clark will not be re-elected in this riding, and, no doubt, it is generally held that he deserves to be, whatever your political stripe.
The municipal election, on the other hand, is something else. Is it too early to be talking about this? In one way, yes. But there are decisions and discussions (preferably in reverse order) that have to be dealt with before we start an election campaign. Two issues, in particular, need to be addressed: one of which is that old perennial: how many councillors do we need? Let me repeat, ad nauseum: we have the same size Council that Kemptville had when it was established in 1857 with a population of under 1,000. South Gower, Oxford-on-Rideau and Kemptville each had as large a council before amalgamation in 1998. Given the growth in population, in infrastructure, in the complexity and multiplicity of issues since then, can the current size of council adequately and efficiently handle governing the municipality?
The second issue has to do with how we structure our municipal government. There are those who think that changing to a ward system would be more democratic and representative. At the moment, we elect councillors “at large”; that is, to quote the Ontario Municipal Board: “In a municipality where the councillors are elected at large, all councillors represent the entire municipality. In an election, the voters choose among all candidates who are running in the election. If municipal council has 8 councillor positions, for example, the 8 candidates with the highest number of votes win the election and become the new councillors”.
A ward system means that the municipality is divided into geographical areas, or wards: “Voters in each ward can choose only among the candidates who are running for election in that ward. For example, if a municipality has 8 council members and 4 wards, 2 councillors will be elected from each ward. Each voter chooses 2 candidates from among the candidates running in that ward. In each ward, the two candidates with the highest number of votes will serve on municipal council”.
There is a third option in a ward system: some councillors are elected for a specific ward, and two or more are elected at large, as at present. In all cases, the Mayor, and possibly the Deputy Mayor, are elected at large, so that every citizen gets to vote for those offices.
Now is the time to have this discussion, because it is up to the municipal council to pass a by-law to divide or redivide the municipality into wards, under the Municipal Act. This can also be initiated by residents petitioning council to make that change, and council must respond to any petition to that end which contains a minimum of 50 signatures and represents 1% of the electors in the municipality or 500 electors, whichever is less. The OMB has an appeals process if a council does not respond to the petition within 90 days [subsection 223(4) of the Municipal Act].
To be honest, I’m not sure which system would be best for North Grenville. I do believe we need a larger council. Some think it is not yet time for either of these changes, that the current size of council can manage well enough. But when do we talk about this? When we decide they can no longer manage? When will that be: when things get out of control? Is it not best that we be in a position to respond before we reach that point? Now is the time for discussion and argument. The Times will run a survey asking your opinion on both these issues. We think residents deserve a chance to have a say on the subject, whatever way it turns out. There’s surely no harm in talking about it. We may remain as we are after the election of 2018, or we may start out in a new direction, ready for the next 150 years.