By Stephen Vance, Editor
Lost in the discussion of a request at the June 24 meeting of council for municipal staff to prepare a report outlining the logistics involved in including a question on next year’s municipal election ballot regarding the topics of municipal restructuring and the introduction of a ward system, was what is quite possibly the best suggestion by a Meaford councillor during the current term.
As one could expect, the conversation around the council table quickly zeroed in on the word “restructuring” and the notion of Sydenham potentially separating from the municipality.
However, in putting forward her request, Councillor Deborah Young has touched on something that while ignored (during the public council discussion at least) by her fellow councillors, has the potential to solve a lot of the friction between the three distinct areas of this municipality – a ward system.
From the time I moved to Meaford in 2005 I have wondered why Meaford hadn’t implemented a ward system as part of the 2001 amalgamation of the former townships of St. Vincent and Sydenham, and the former town of Meaford. The merger of three previously independent and distinct communities into one seemed like an obvious scenario for the establishment of a ward system.
If we could for a brief moment set aside the long list of current complaints from all sides, and scratch the surface a little bit, what Sydenham residents have really expressed for years is that they don’t feel that they are appropriately represented on Meaford’s council, that their voice isn’t heard, and the big bad bully also known as “urban Meaford” is calling all the shots, and is spending Sydenham residents’ hard earned property tax dollars in ways that are of little to no benefit to them.
Even when they have had their fair share of councillors based on residency, under the current system, those councillors are obligated to represent the entire community lest they be accused of favouritism toward a particular area.
That is a valid concern, and one that shouldn’t be scoffed at or shoved to the side by members of council, or the general public.
Imagine if from the outset, the new Municipality of Meaford had established a ward system with three painfully obvious wards – St. Vincent, Sydenham, and Meaford, with two Councillors elected from each ward to represent their specific area, and the Mayor elected separately as is currently done.
Never could it have been argued that one specific area was under-represented, and never could a councillor who under the current system is obligated to be a representative of the entire municipality be accused of favouring their “home turf.”
Residents in each ward could at least find some comfort in knowing that a third of the members of council would be fighting for the needs and desires of their ward, and they would know exactly who to contact when they had a problem or a concern that they felt needed to be addressed at council.
Election time would also be far less complex as rather than having to decide on five Councillors, a Deputy Mayor and a Mayor, voters would only need to vote for two council members and the position of Mayor.
A ward system could also benefit councillors themselves as they would have a defined area that they would be representing, and could better focus their time and energy on a single area rather than the entire 588 square kilometres that is the Municipality of Meaford.
Divorce is typically a messy affair, and prior to any divorce, the common advice is to first make an attempt at reconciliation. While some, like Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield have expressed worry that the proposal from Councillor Young might be the “first volley of canons in the war of secession,” I’d like to think that Young’s desire to have Meaford voters consider the implementation of a ward system as an intelligent move toward a reconciliation.
If ever there was a municipality that could benefit from a ward system for council representation, it is the Municipality of Meaford. Councillor Young is wise to suggest it, and hopefully the rest of council will be wise enough to embrace the idea, and let Meaford voters have their say next October when they cast their ballots.