That the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce public forum on the structure of municipal council drew about a 100 people to the Steelworkers Hall during a January freeze in Northern Ontario indicates there is a certain hunger out there for change, or at the very least, a curiousity about how our representative body might better function.
Although no change could occur before the municipal election of 2018, that the chamber opted to hold the event as this election year kicks off indicates a certain hunger for change — or at least a willingness to explore options — among the city’s business community as well.
The lack of progress, vision, cohesion and sense of common purpose that has hamstrung Sudbury’s current municipal council has been debated ad nauseam in newspaper articles and coffee shops over the past three years, so there is no sense plowing that field again here.
We are all well aware little of substance was achieved this term.
The question is how much blame, if any, for this lack of achievement stems from the ward structure under which council operates.
Proponents of the wards, former mayor Jim Gordon, for instance, argue such a system forces councillors to be intimately familiar with and responsive to the needs of their constituents. It results in representation that is plugged in. There is merit to this.
Critics acknowledge this, but counter wards encourage an unproductive relationship between voter and representative, wherein the elected official becomes too focused on the minutiae of governance (snow clearing, garbage collection and the like) in order to better their chances of re-election.
This results, critics maintain, in representation that is inward looking, that lacks vision.
There is merit to this as well.
The City of North Bay seems to be of this mind and is served by a system of at-large councillors who are beholden to every resident of the community, not only those in a particular ward.
The City of Thunder Bay (a community that underwent an amalgamation much as Greater Sudbury has) recognizes the merits of both systems and uses a hybrid, that melds the neighbourhood focus of a ward with the broader vision afforded by at-large representatives.
Would either of these council structures — wholly at-large or hybrid — serve Sudbury ratepayers better than the current system? Is the ward system best for Nickel City?
We want to hear from you. We want your letters and your comments on this issue.
Democracy is best served by vocal voters. Our elected officials serve us best when we make our opinions known.
Ward, at-large or hybrid — where do you stand?