Huron East Council defers ward change decision until after election
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron East Council has deferred a committee recommendation that would drastically alter the ward system, with an eye towards eliminating it altogether, leaving the decision up to the new council.
At council’s Tuesday night meeting, which was held virtually via Zoom, Clerk Jessica Rudy presented the conclusion reached by the newly-struck Council Review Public Advisory Committee. The committee, comprised of five members of the public, was charged with reviewing the composition and compensation of Huron East Council ahead of the 2026-2030 term.
The committee recommended the implementation of a nine-member council for the 2026-2030 term that would include a mayor elected at-large, a deputy-mayor to be appointed by council from elected councillors, two councillors from a newly-created ward that would combine Brussels and Grey, two councillors from a newly-created ward that would combine McKillop and Seaforth, two councillors from the current Tuckersmith Ward and two councillors elected at-large. This would be a change from the current structure, which includes two councillors from each of the five wards, one deputy-mayor selected by council from those councillors and a mayor elected at-large.
Furthermore, the committee recommended that the new council undertake discussion by 2029 to eliminate the ward system and move to a wholly at-large election.
The committee had no recommendations on council compensation and suggested no changes be made.
Dan Fritz, chair of the committee, was present for the meeting, but not called upon for comment. Rudy said the committee met five times over the course of May and June, with herself and Chief Administrative Officer Brad McRoberts both present at all meetings to provide support to the committee.
The committee gathered further input through the municipality’s online engagement tool HEAR (Huron East Asks Residents), garnering 35 responses. Seventeen of those who responded indicated that the current 11-member council size is ideal, while one more person (18) said it was too large. One person said the current council is too small, while 15 people said that a seven-member council would be ideal.
Fifteen people each said they favoured at-large election for the deputy-mayor and appointment by council, respectively, splitting that vote, while six people said the deputy-mayor should be the councillor who receives the most votes in the municipal election.
Twenty-four respondents felt the current ward structure was appropriate, while the rest of the votes were varied between a revised structure or no ward system at all.
Regardless of the public input and a stated preference to retain the ward system, the committee expressed a desire to eliminate the ward election format and move to an at-large election format. However, according to Rudy’s report, the committee recognized that such a move would require somewhat of a transition period.
Councillor Ray Chartrand felt the level of public input was far lower than what council was expecting, saying that 35 people voicing their opinions is hardly an appropriate sample size. He then suggested a motion that would defer the recommendation, organize public meetings on the subject and set a specific meeting in 2023 (he recommended a meeting in March) at which the new council would further debate potential restructuring.
Councillor Alvin McLellan agreed. Both Chartrand and McLellan thanked the committee and its members for their hard work, but McLellan echoed Chartrand’s comments, saying he felt far more input from the public was needed for such an important decision.
McLellan said he agreed with some of the committee’s recommendations, while disagreeing with others, but his main concern was the lack of public input. Having said that, McLellan acknowledged that you can’t force residents to take a survey and that the opinions of those who did take the time to participate shouldn’t be discounted, just that more voices needed to be heard.
Building on Chartrand’s suggestion of holding two public meetings, one in the northern end of the municipality and one in the south, McLellan suggested maybe hosting public meetings on the topic in conjunction with the municipality’s all-candidates meetings this fall. Traditionally, meetings are held in all five of the wards, which would ensure all areas of the municipality are included in the process.
Councillor Zoellyn Onn asked about the circulation of information on the issue and she agreed with McRoberts’ answer that the request for responses was sufficiently advertised, just that you can’t force residents to participate.
McRoberts agreed, saying that over the course of his career, he has found public participation very low unless the issue of the day is very controversial.
Council then made a motion along the lines of what Chartrand proposed, deferring the recommendation until after this October’s municipal election, presenting information to the public at this fall’s all-candidates meetings and directing the new council to consider the committee’s recommendations in the first half of 2023.
Council carried the motion.