Dec. 10, 2014
By Leah Wong
Just eight years after the city moved to an at-large method of electing city councillors, Oshawa is again looking at changing its electoral system.
At Monday’s meeting the Corporate Services Committee unanimously supported a motion from regional councilor Amy England, which endorses moving back to a ward system. The 2014 election was only the second time since amalgamation that the city had used an at-large system.
“The most important thing is to respect the voters and they chose to move back to a ward system,” said England. “You always have to give the voters an opportunity to choose their own democratic system.”
While campaigning England said she heard a mix of opinions about the electoral system. While some voters wanted to stay with the at-large system-saying they liked being able to vote for all council positions-others were frustrated and wanted to revert to the ward system.
At-large elections are difficult and expensive for candidates. According to the 2011 Census Oshawa’s population is around 149,600 people living in 58,800 households. For candidates, that’s a lot of doors to knock on. “It’s very hard to campaign across the entire city,” said England.
Reverting back to the ward system wasn’t part of England’s campaign platform, thought she made an election promise to respect and enforce the referendum question regardless of the outcome.
Distinguishing between candidates in an at-large system, particularly one in a larger municipality can be difficult for residents. In October Oshawa voters were allowed a maximum of seven picks for regional councillor from 22 candidates and a maximum of three picks for city councillor from 18 candidates.
Under the Municipal Election Act, referendums are only binding if more than 50 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot on the item. Neither the 2006 vote to move to an at-large system nor the recent referendum is binding, as voter turnout in those elections was around 25 and 26 per cent, respectively.
Now that committee has agreed to revert back to the ward system, council will vote on it early next year. Records information systems manager Jason McWilliam said staff is awaiting council’s decision on the matter. If council approves the switch, staff will start working on a plan to bring back to council on how to make the change.
In 2006, the last time Oshawa voted on moving to a ward system, there were seven wards with voters choosing one regional councillor per ward and three city councillors representing two wards each. There was no city councillor representing ward 7. Ward boundaries and the makeup of council are two areas the city will have to address if it decides to make the switch back to a ward system. Any modifi cations to ward boundaries and the method of electing officials will have to be complete, with no appeals remaining at the OMB, prior to December 31, 2017.