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City council opens door to changing size, composition

Councillors vote to examine possibility of reviewing number of councillors, other major changes ahead of 2022 election
City Council
City council will consider launching a review of council size and composition in November. (File photo)

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s city council has opened the door, at least a crack, to major changes to its size and composition ahead of the next municipal election in 2022.

A motion passed at its Monday night meeting will see the city clerk’s office report back to council by the end of November on the possibility of a public consultation process that could see changes implemented in time for 2022.

Coun. Kristen Oliver, who proposed the motion, originally suggested examining a reduction to 9 councillors from the current 13.

Councillors ultimately dropped that stipulation, however, with some outright opposed to a reduction in size, and others preferring to leave the process more open-ended.

“It’s my wish that this isn’t an exercise to reduce council,” said Coun. Brian Hamilton. “I think it should be to get the best representation for the people. If it comes back that [a reduction] is the best, then I’m okay with that.”

The scope of the review, if approved, could go far beyond council’s size. City clerk Krista Power suggested it might also consider the breakdown of ward versus at-large representation, ward boundaries, and whether councillors should be employed part-time or full-time.

Oliver said options like ranked balloting could also be examined.

Coun. Andrew Foulds was one of four no votes on the proposal, arguing the current system worked and a reduction would mean less representation for residents and less diversity of voices in decision-making.

He also worried a review would require too many city resources, already stretched to the limit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The body of work that would have to be undertaken for this is huge,” he said. “I question whether we want the clerk to engage in this endeavour, or focus on reopening the city and making sure, for example, that committees are back up and running.”

Coun. Shelby Ch’ng, meanwhile, argued that hoped-for efficiencies from a smaller council wouldn’t necessarily materialize.

“The gripes that I have with council and the length of meetings, I don’t think is [due to] the number of councillors,” she said. “I’ve seen seven-person committees go on for hours and hours.”

Coun. Cody Fraser expressed skepticisim, saying complaints about the composition of council usually came up only following unpopular spending decisions or particularly long meetings.

He also argued reform was unlikely to result in meaningful savings, with councillor salaries around $30,000 a year.

However, most of their council colleagues were interested enough to vote for a report back from Power by the end of November.

That will contain a recommended plan for consultation, financial implications, and information on legislative deadlines and other considerations to make changes in time for the 2022 election.

Councillors Ch’ng, Foulds, Fraser, and McKinnon voted against the motion, with all others in favour.

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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