York Region: ELECTING COUNCILLORS-AT-LARGE
July 9, 2014
October 27 Aurora voters will decide if councillors should be elected using a ward system instead of the at-large system which is presently used.
Aurora is not the only municipality to elect councillors at large in York Region. While Aurora elects eight councillors at large, East Gwillimbury elects four. It’s more common for smaller municipalities that have difficulty defining ward boundaries to use this electoral system, though there are some exceptions. In the GTA Oshawa also elects councillors at large.
There are pros and cons to both the councillor at-large system and the ward system. Aurora councillor candidate Arshad Desai told NRU that with the current system residents always know there’s someone to whom they can reach out.
Fellow candidate Jim Abram said the ward system would promote “enlightened self-interest” and that it doesn’t make sense to have eight ward councillors for Aurora’s projected population. Abram would like to hear a discussion about the adoption of the model used in Thunder Bay, where five councillors serve at large and seven represent specifi c wards, though he does prefer the at-large system over wards in Aurora.
Alternatively, Aurora councillor candidate Anthony Pullano said in an email to NRU that there is “no accountability from councillors [in an at-large system] because no one actually represents anyone.” He said a ward system would bring councillors closer to the residents they represent, including the town’s many new residents.
Population growth is one of the reasons Aurora is issuing a referendum on the ward system. According to Statistics Canada between 2006 and 2011 population in the town grew 11.6 per cent to 53,203.
Though East Gwillimbury is substantially smaller than Aurora, with 22,473 people, candidates in both communities are talking about similar issues. And growth is a major issue for voters in both municipalities. The provincial growth plan forecasts East Gwillimbury will surpass the population of Aurora by 2031. While Aurora’s population is forecasted to hit 70,750, East Gwillimbury’s is forecasted to reach 75,300.
“The tremendous amount of population growth targeted for our community brings with it a number of concerns,” East Gwillimbury councillor Tara Roy-DiClemente told NRU in an email. This includes timing infrastructure and the delivery of services with new developments.
Former East Gwillimbury councillor Jack Hauseman said with growth the town needs a strong council that can work with the development industry to manage growth. Hauseman is running for council again after a failed bid for mayor in 2010.
“We don’t want to just have one bedroom community after another. In other words, have East Gwillimbury paved over,” said Hauseman. In the areas that are planned for development he said it is important that there are complete communities with services.
With the growth expected for these two municipalities there is a concern about tax rates. Roy-DiClemente said residents want growth to pay for itself rather than burdening the existing tax base. Residents are also concerned with how council is spending money.
“Aurora [residents] want to know that their councillors are fiscally responsible,” said Desai. “It’s very important that every taxpayer knows exactly how [his or her] money is spent.”
Abram said the town needs to build a complete community that is inclusive of both old and new Aurora, which will become increasingly important as the population grows.
“We need to be inclusive and create a single community,” said Abram.
Aurora councillor candidate Harold Kim said the demographics in the town have changed over the last decade. While the town is more multicultural, he said council remains behind and he would like to see representation that better reflects the diversity of its citizens. Having a greater diversity of perspectives will only help council grow, said Kim.
Also on the Aurora ballot will be a question about reducing the size of council from eight to six councillors. Both referendum questions will require at least a 50 per cent voter turnout, in addition to 50 per cent of electors voting in the affirmative, to become binding. Aurora mayor Geoffrey Dawe is running for re-election and is facing Councillor John Gallo in the race for mayor. Also running for council seats are Svetla Topouzova, James Hoyes and incumbent councillors John Abel and Paul Pirri.
East Gwillimbury mayor Virginia Hackson faces opposition from Councillor Cathy Morton. There are a total of four candidates registered to run for council. Joe Persechini and Councillor John Eaton are also running.