There was enough support during Tuesday's regular meeting of North Bay City Council to further examine what a ward system with potentially fewer representatives might look like for North Bay but one veteran councillor says, while he's happy to have the conversation, he does see some pitfalls.
Coun. Jamie Lowery led the discussion by saying he brought the motion forward because it was a topic he heard often while campaigning door to door last summer and fall.
"Looking at this option improves accountability and it certainly could prove to be a progressive move for North Bay and it's worthwhile looking into it."
See related: Lowery motion calls for ward system and fewer councillors
Coun. Mac Bain said he was satisfied to support the motion but was not as optimistic about the ward system's fit for North Bay.
"I know lots of councillors from across Ontario," Bain told his colleagues. "Most of them are in wards, some of them are excellent and they represent their whole community, they represent their whole region quite well.
"I also know several — many, actually — who represent their 10 blocks. They don't care about the city as a whole and they don't care of its impact."
At present, North Bay uses an "at large" system in which councillors are voted for by the entire electorate. Some contend it makes councillors more impartial and concerned with the problems of the whole community. In a ward system, a voter selects a single council member from their own geographical section of the city, called a "ward."
Bain continued, "In my 20 years here, we've had some very contentious issues, in regards to Sweetman's Gardens and Tweedsmuir. In a ward system, if you don't represent West Ferris, what does Tweedsmuir matter? If you don't represent the downtown area, what does Sweetman's Gardens matter? These are issues to take into consideration when creating a ward system."
A motion to refer the matter to the committee level from Coun. Gary Gardiner, seconded by Coun. Mark King will see a staff report prepared for information purposes regarding the ward system.
"I am absolutely in favour of a ward system — if we are looking to tighten our respective belts council should evaluate if it is the right size. I’m thinking perhaps six wards and a mayor," Lowery said last week in discussing the original ward system motion that was seconded by Coun. Sara Inch.
Mayor Peter Chirico ran on a platform to advocate for a ward or hybrid system. "I believe it’s time to move municipal representation in North Bay into the 21st century," reads that election platform. "I know consultations will be needed but I will lead the charge for direct representation via a ward system because you should know who represents your neighbourhood on council."
Without giving it his endorsement, Bain noted another option is to use a hybrid system that can involve a mixture of full- and part-time councillors employed by the municipality. For example, three full-time councillors are supplemented by part-time councillors elected via the ward system.
"There are different models out there, it's not strictly a ward system," Bain offered. "In North Bay, and how we interact with the other communities in Nipissing, we do very well with our surrounding community partners. We sit on DNSSAB and Health Unit with them. We all communicate very well. But, sometimes if you have a ward councillor — harkening back to those that only represent their 10 blocks — they are sitting on a Health Unit, they are sitting on a DSSAB, what's it matter? All they are thinking about is getting re-elected by their 10 blocks.
"Those things should be taken into consideration when we're voting on the report."