Ward boundaries will be on the agenda again at the Three Rivers committee of council meeting on January 25, and opinions remain divided on the map recommended by the Electoral Boundaries Commission.
The three-person commission was tasked with carving the population into eight wards, ensuring each had no more than a 10 per cent difference from the average.
Concerns have been raised by both councillors and members of the public. One is the fact six of the proposed eight wards include a piece of Montague, leading to questions about whether the former town or the outlying areas would be underrepresented. There are also two wards separated by the Cardigan and Brudenell Rivers, respectively.
For some rural residents, the idea of sharing a ward with a larger centre is not appealing. The proposed Ward 1 is an example of this, incorporating Brudenell and part of Georgetown.
Mayor Ed MacAulay said he thinks the proposed map is “a fair, balanced approach to the next council” and would like to see residents stop thinking in terms of rural versus urban.
“If we keep going forward with looking after rural on the one hand and urban on the other, it really is hard to build a community,” he said.
“I want to have a council that’s representative of all of Three Rivers, urban and rural, and it’s the councillors’ responsibility to ensure that balance is fair and just and issues are brought forward.”
The mayor said he has heard concerns from residents of both Montague and rural areas about being underrepresented, but said he doesn’t see that happening.
“You can’t not deal with Montague and issues that relate to Montague. A councillor has to represent those issues,” Mayor MacAulay said. “The only way to quell that kind of division, I believe, is to have people representing both voices and alleviate some of those thoughts.”
However, Deputy Mayor Debbie Johnston said the way Montague is split up remains a sticking point for her.
“I’m really having a difficult time deciding on my opinion of the commission’s report. Residents have contacted me and they don’t like the idea of Montague being divided into six different wards. I do have to agree with the people from Ward 10 who have said that to me.”
Coun Johnston said there are several options for divvying up Montague but she isn’t sure which would be best.
“I know Montague, because of population, can’t all be grouped together. But I would like to see more of it grouped together.”
The deputy mayor said she does appreciate the commission’s exhaustive work to determine the wards, though.
With the new boundaries not taking effect until the 2022 municipal election, Coun Johnston said council should take all the time it needs on this decision.
“It’s something that’s very important. It’s going to have a big impact on Three Rivers.”
Coun Gerard Holland said he is still in favour of an open-ward system, but he doesn’t take issue with the commission’s map, which makes only minor changes to his ward of Lower Montague.
“There are some councillors that are much more concerned about this than I am,” he said. “It’s sort of like a pick your poison scenario. Some will like it, some won’t. My boundary didn’t change a great deal.”
Coun Paul Morrison could not be reached for comment, but at the October meeting he said he was opposed to the recommendation. The proposed Ward 2, split by the Cardigan River, would combine his current ward of Launching with part of Georgetown.
“It doesn’t make sense to me that people in my area are grouped in with Georgetown,” he said at the time.
Opposition to the proposed boundaries has also been expressed by residents in correspondence read at recent meetings. At the December committee of council meeting, a letter from Brudenell resident Blair Sorrey took issue with that area being in the same ward as Georgetown.
“It’s a betrayal of Brudenell and its residents. Do you really think Brudenell residents are OK with someone from Georgetown speaking on their behalf?”
Meanwhile, a letter from Carla Morgan of Montague was read at the December meeting. She argued the wards should be drawn in a way that separates urban and rural areas, rather than by population. However, section 39 of the Municipal Government Act stipulates each ward’s population must be within 10 per cent of the average of all wards.
Ms Morgan wrote she hoped the boundaries would “represent the history of who we are and help us thrive culturally and economically.”
With the boundary discussion taking place against a backdrop of continued opposition from some to the 2018 amalgamation, Mayor MacAulay said it may take two or three terms before people truly accept it and feel they are treated equally.
“It takes good leadership, good administration and it takes council working together.”
The mayor said the commission did a “marvelous job” given the scope of what they were dealing with, including population trends. He said if council rejects the proposed map, it would be back to square one.
“I don’t think we can tinker with it and I don’t think we should tinker with it. The commission did the work, they did it unbiasedly, a lot of work on a good product. It’s unfortunate if council doesn’t accept the recommendation and brings it back,” Mayor MacAulay said.