A growing city requires changes in representation

October 2014

City statistics show Edmonton as the fastest growing city with a population now sitting at 877,926 with 30,000 new residents calling the City of Festivals home, every year. This massive growth brings complications to how the city governs, and at times, it can be the justification to increase the number of elected officials.

While, it is important for elected officials to maintain contact with their constituents, I believe it is also desirable for municipal government to avoid the development of party politics and bloc voting, which all too often forms in larger governments. With examples of Toronto and Montreal, the complications that come with bloc voting can be crippling to the greater goal of serving the city, and its people. This is the trade-off.

Studies show the ideal number to most effectively govern is around 12-13 elected officials. As we get larger and larger, typically, the more likely bloc voting becomes, and the less efficient Council is. I am always awed when looking back on a year at the number of projects, initiatives, and work that we have been able to complete; something I believe is the envy of many other big cities.

On the other hand, as ward populations increase, it becomes extremely difficult to maintain personal contact with our constituents, get to all the community events, and be able to focus on all individual constituent needs. With some wards pushing 90,000, it is becoming unrealistic to expect to be able to continue to provide the same representation and service to such a large group.

What are our options? We can follow suit with other municipalities, most recently Calgary, and increase the number of Councillors. This would come at significant financial costs including a rework of Council Chambers, the Councillor’s Wing, and a large increase in budget to fund the additional offices. Alternatively, we could look at increasing the number of support staff per office and improve the capacity deficit that way. While it would require some financial investment to fund these staff, it would be meagre in comparison to the first option. This would then mean that the public’s interaction with Council will be even more through our staff as we cannot possibly be as involved in each constituent concern as we would like, while effectively govern.

I am undecided on the issue and see the benefit for both sides, as well as their limitations. Moving forward, I would like to hear from you as to what you think.

Feel free to call me at 780 496 8146, email me at ben.henderson@edmonton.ca, or follow me on Twitter @ben_hen.

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