LETHBRIDGE: One month after the Lethbridge civic election saw just under a 30-per cent turnout of eligable voters, the topic of getting more people involved in the process took centre stage at Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs (SACPA).
Doctor Paul Fairie was the guest speaker Thursday afternoon. He explained that as Lethbridge grows, we should consider moving from an at-large to a ward voting system.
He then outlined how it should help voter turnout, "We know that when people have more choices to make on the ballot, they tend to not show up at all because it's too complicated. So moving to a ward system where maybe you're selecting one out of five rather than eight out of 29, it might end up increasing voter turnout at least a bit."
Fairie also pointed out that a ward system would help to ensure everyone has a voice in the community, "Local representation is better in cities where there's some regional differences between, say north and south or east and west, where in a city wide campaign you would end up with one area dominating the other area. With wards you would make sure that there was councillors from each of the areas, so everyone gets a little bit of a say on council and any council votes."
The greatest reason in Fairie's mind for why the change hasn't been made yet, is simply resistance to change and a fear of the unknown. A referendum in Red Deer during the last election showed overwhelming opposition to the idea in that city.
While acknowledging that there would be some growing pains to making the switch, Fairie noted that we wouldn't have to make the full jump in one move. He explained that Thunder Bay uses a hybrid system where everyone votes for the mayor and a set number of councillors, and then vote for one person for their ward.