Mayoral candidates Rob Wickson, Coun. Fred Haynes, and Mayor Richard Atwell will face off for a second time Wednesday following Thursday’s all-candidates’ forum Wolf Depner/News Staff

Ward discussion in Saanich draws competing reactions from mayoral candidates

While Mayor Richard Atwell appears open to the idea, Coun. Fred Haynes raises concerns

The suggestion that Saanich study the introduction of a ward system is drawing different reactions, as candidates for mayor and councillor get ready for the second all-candidates’ forum.

Rob Wickson, who is running for mayor in Saanich, said during last week’s all-candidates forum that he would be open to study the introduction of a ward system.

“That would be an interesting question to explore,” Wickson said during last week’s all-candidates’ forum. “I would love to hear what people thought about that.” But he also tempered expectations.

RELATED: Saanich mayoral candidate open to the idea of wards

A ward system would divide any municipality into a number of sub-municipal units or wards, with each ward electing a single council member, following an internal run-off.

A ward system would mark a major departure from recent practices, but also mark a return to the past, as Saanich used a similar model between 1908 and 1949.

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Currently, residents elect eight council members independently of any geographic conditions.

Coun. Fred Haynes acknowledged in a follow up interview that the point that a ward system could improve geographic representation.

“Some people that this is an advantage,” he said. But in terms of access, it would limit access to council at large, he said.

“The councillor is connected to the interests of that ward, versus the interests of the municipality at large,” he said, pointing to Toronto, where a “balkanization” has taken place.

“There can be deficiencies in the ward system, and Saanich residents are better served by electing councillors at large, so that they have legitimate access to all councillors on all issues,” he said.

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Mayor Richard Atwell appears open to the idea of wards, but under conditions, in a follow up interview after the forum.

The research required ahead of such a change could happen after the election by the citizens ’ assembly on amalgamation subject of Saanich’s ballot question, he said.

“If Saanich were to return to a ward system, it would likely be decided by plebiscite as Vancouver did in 2004,” he said. ”I’m open to exploring the idea and I am open to a citizens’ assembly studying the governance in this region,” he added later.

Vancouver — which used to have a ward system until 1936 — has a history of rejecting the idea.

In 1982 and 1988, more than half of Vancouver voters approved a return to a ward system, but these attempts fell short of the 60 per cent majority then required by the Vancouver Charter.

A third referendum in 2004 also failed, with 54 per cent opposed to wards.

Atwell, Haynes and Wickson face off again Wednesday, as the Cadboro Bay Residents’ Association gets ready to host an all-candidates forum Wednesday, Sept. 26 between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Cadboro Bay United Church at 2625 Arbutus Road. The trio met last week Thursday.

A fourth candidate for mayor — David Shebib — did not attend that meeting.

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