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Council composition, ward boundary changes a ‘huge matter,’ says mayor

Public consultation on final four options runs until April 20

City council will soon make decisions that could impact local representation well into the future, with the final round of public consultation underway now. 

The ward boundary review outcome may not only redraw the lines, it could reduce the number of councillors elected to office and increase their workloads, as well as alter who is interested or able to run for those positions due to a potential shift from part-time to full-time status.

“This is a huge matter for the community,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie, the only member of council whose role isn’t directly affected by the outcome of those decisions.

“I fully recognize there’s so much going on in the world right now, but if the community could take a moment and really look (the final four options) through, it would be very helpful to council and to myself as we look to decide how representation and how government is going to function after the next election.”

Any changes made would come into place following next year’s municipal election.

Public input is currently being sought on four options, narrowed down from 13, with a report and formal recommendation to council expected in June. The public consultation period runs through April 20.

Among them are two six-ward options, with different boundaries, including two part-time councillors elected from each ward.

There’s also an option for five wards, featuring two part-time councillors each, as well as an eight-ward option with one councillor each, though that role could be part or full-time.

“We believe that all the options are viable,” said Robert Williams of Watson & Associates during a town hall-style presentation on Wednesday. “Each one of them, in their own way, gives us effective representation.

“Each has benefits and drawbacks,” he added. “There is no perfect option.”

Watson & Associates is the consulting firm hired to review the effectiveness of the current ward boundaries and provide alternatives for council to consider. It’s been additionally tasked with considering the number of councillors elected from each ward, as well as recommending whether those roles be full or part-time.

The city currently features six wards, with two part-time councillors elected from each, in addition to a mayor who is elected at-large.

“We continue to push this issue from one election cycle to the next … and I think it’s important that we come to a resolution now,” Guthrie said, noting discussions about a review first began in 2012, though the effort didn’t officially launch until last year. “I think now’s the time where we don’t punt this into the next term, that we actually make a decision.”

Initially, the mayor said, he was in favour of having fewer councillors, but is no longer leaning in that direction.

“More councillors, I think, are good representation,” he said, suggesting they should probably be part-time in their role at this time. “It does allow for more voices and different representation from the community.

“I believe you will get more diverse voices, more diverse opinions and it works – it does seem to work already.”

This current system has been in place “without significant modification” since 1990, notes the consultants’ report. At that time, the city’s population was in the range of 90,000. It currently sits at about 143,000. 

It had been that way since 1909, though the number of councillors varied. At one time there were as many as 18.

To provide input, visit www.haveyoursay.guelph.ca/council-composition. Several times have also been set aside specifically for city clerk’s department staff to take questions and gather opinions; April 15 from 10 to 11 a.m. (519-822-1260 ext. 2440), April 15 from 6 to 7 p.m. (ext. 2811) and April 19 from 2 to 3 p.m. (ext. 2240).

The second of two virtual town hall-style presentations, followed by a question and answer period, is slated for this coming Tuesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The first was held last Wednesday.

That presentation will be streamed live at guelph.ca/live, as well as on the city’s Facebook page and via WebEx (password is CityCouncil2021).