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UPDATE: Belleville council votes against a four-ward system

By Shira Rubinoff [1]

BELLEVILLE – Monday evening’s city council meeting in Belleville [2] was filled with passion on both sides of a debate about changing the city’s ward boundaries. 

The plan to replace the current two ward system with four wards was defeated in a 6-3 vote. Councillors Kelly McCaw and Bill Sandison voted in favour of the change. Mayor Mitch Panciuk, who had initially brought the proposal for a new ward system to council in May, also voted in favour.

In voting against it the remaining six councillors cited reasons that ranged from higher property taxes to insufficient input from city residents.

“There is no clear, demonstrated desire for change,” said Coun. Paul Carr.

The current two-ward system has been in place since 1998. Photo courtesy of the City of Belleville.

After Panciuk proposed the new system in May, a survey [3], including a video and questionnaire, went public in June for citizens’ consideration. The response rate was only a little over one per cent of the city’s population.

59% of the 724 respondents were not fans of the proposal, and some used the survey’s comments to bring up unrelated concerns they had about municipal issues.

The new proposed ward boundaries would have split Belleville into four sections. Map courtesy of the City of Belleville

Coun. Tyler Allsopp promised in a meeting earlier in the summer that he would listen to the results of the city-wide survey and use that as the determining factor in which way his vote would swing. He said there wasn’t enough response to justify changing the existing boundaries.

Coun. Sean Kelly voted against the change. In his statement, he referenced a publication called Economics and Politics [4] which he said found that having a ward system leads to higher local government spending and higher debt.

He also said that having a ward system didn’t make sense for the size of Belleville.

http://www.qnetnews.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/sean-kelly-ward-boundaries.mp3 [5]

“I can appreciate the conversation, I’m glad we’ve had this, but i think it works today. And there’s been reference to the city of guelph, for ward systems a lot of cities 80,000 plus might have a ward system. Guelph is a city of 136,000 people. We’re just hovering at around maybe 54, 55.”

In Sandison’s supporting statement, he told council he had conducted research into ward systems in similarly sized cities.

His research brought him to Guelph, a city that hired consultants to recommend changes to its current six-ward system.

Sandison said he spoke with Guelph’s city clerk, Dylan McMahon, who said that Guelph had considered multiple factors before making a decision.

Those factors included municipal growth trends and projections, geographic and topographic boundaries, communities of interest and equal representation of voter parity.

Voter parity refers to the balance between the number of voters in a ward and how many council members are chosen to represent that ward. 

http://www.qnetnews.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Bill-Sandison-ward-boundaries.mp3 [6]

“It’s really important that we as a council acknowledge and understand the guiding principles of effective representation, equal representation and voter parity in communities of interest.”

Another subject brought forward in favour of the new ward boundaries was representation.

Coun. Kelly McCaw said changing ward boundaries would help break down barriers that some people have to face when considering running for council. 

She also said having more wards would offer the opportunity for more focused representation of specific communities. 

http://www.qnetnews.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/kelly-mccaw-ward-boundaries.mp3 [7]

“Clearly, I see a really noticeable improvement for the current Ward 2 in the subdivisions that surround Maitland Drive. These areas will now have the ability to be better represented by councillors who are more urban focused as opposed to rural focused. The rural ward of Thurlow will be solely represented by those who understand the rural component of Thurlow, like service levels.”

When the discussion came to an end, councillors placed their votes and ultimately the by-law was rejected.

In Panciuk’s final statement, he said the current ward system is unbalanced.

According to him, the new ward boundaries would have been “modern, balanced, equal” for the citizens of Belleville.

A new by-law about the city’s ward boundaries could be brought to council again with amendments in coming years.

The full council meeting can be found on the Belleville City Hall YouTube account. [8]