Ward idea dies – again

Bob Bose wanted electoral reform put to referendum this November

Coun. Bob Bose

A proposal to put the ward system to referendum this November was shot down by council Monday.

As he does every three years or so, Coun. Bob Bose brought up the issue of electoral reform, particularly neighbourhood constituencies, or wards.

Under such a system, councillors would be elected to represent different communities, as opposed to the current at-large system, where all councillors are elected to represent the whole city.

Bose said Surrey is becoming so large, wards make representation more manageable for councillors, and voters know better who to call when they have an issue with city hall.

Surrey had a ward system between 1887 and 1957.

It was abolished after ward seven became disenfranchised with how it was being treated by the rest of Surrey council and seceded from Surrey, becoming White Rock.

On Monday, Surrey council used that as an example of the ineffective nature of wards.

Coun. Marvin Hunt said he’s largely in favour of referenda but bristles at the notion of wards.

Because they exist in many large cities across the country, he often gets new Surrey citizens asking who their councillor is.

“You get to call all of us,” he tells them.

Coun. Barbara Steele, president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, spent the last year in discussions province-wide about electoral reform.

“I don’t think I saw five that wanted a ward system,” Steele said.

Mayor Dianne Watts said Vancouver put the idea to the public and it wasn’t supported. She pointed out the loss of White Rock as a test case for ward failure.

“I will never support a ward system because I will never support pitting neighbour against neighbour,” Watts said.

Bose contended there’s no harm in bringing the idea up for discussion.

“A starting point is to have these matters put out for public discussion,” Bose said, adding the city doesn’t need permission from the province for this kind of electoral reform. “It’s up to the city to decide whether it wants wards or not.”

Coun. Barinder Rasode said she supported much of what Bose had proposed, but said she’d rather bring it to the voters by way of public consultation to find out if there’s an appetite for wards.

In the end, the idea of a referendum on wards was defeated seven to one, with only Bose in favour.