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Surrey councillor urging city to adopt ward system

Last Updated Sep 12, 2020 at 11:29 pm PDT

Surrey City Hall (NEWS 1130 File Photo)

A motion to switch to a ward system for civic elections is being brought by Coun. Doug Elford Monday

If passed, city staff would begin to consider how to make the change away from an at-large system

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Surrey city council is set to consider whether to start the process of moving to a ward system for civic elections with one councillor saying it will provide representation for overlooked neighbourhoods, and another calling it “a divisive way of governing.”

A ward system splits a city into neighbourhoods with councillors elected to represent those neighbourhoods, similar to how provincial and federal officials are elected to represent ridings. Under that system, residents of a ward elect a single councillor to represent their ward and that ward only. Surrey currently uses an “at-large” system where voters cast a vote for all eight councillors, who then represent the city as a whole.

The motion is being brought by Coun. Doug Elford Monday. If passed, it directs staff to come back with recommendations on how to move forward with a transition.

“I’ve always been an advocate for a ward system,” he says.

“Even before I got elected, because as a community activist I was frustrated by the fact that many times we felt that our concerns were not really being heard by council.”

Elford says councillors are “clustered” in particular neighbourhoods, leaving others unrepresented.

“Some neighbourhoods feel that their voices haven’t been heard over the years,” he says. “This allows for more neighbourhood input.”

He also thinks a new system would give more people a chance to get to city hall since it wouldn’t require launching a Surrey-wide campaign.

“it also provides, I believe, more opportunity for community activists and neighbourhood activists to get involved in municipal politics, and potentially get elected to council without requiring huge amounts of money,” he explains.

Coun. Linda Annis is opposed to a change, saying it would be costly, and that it is “a divisive way of governing a city.”

“We shouldn’t be focusing in on individual neighbourhoods, we should be looking out for the greater good of all of Surrey,” she says.

“I also think it’s important that the residents in Surrey have access to all council members, and that we represent everyone in Surrey not just those that live in our neighbourhoods.”

Annis says a ward system would require more than eight councillors, meaning more salaries and expenses.

“I don’t think it’s the time for us to be spending more money on government. We need to be putting money into programs — particularly during COVID-19 — where we can be helping residents and businesses in Surrey thrive and make their way through this pandemic.”

Cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary use a ward system. Vancouver rejected a switch away from an at-large system in 2004 referendum.

With files from Nikitha Martins