Wrap-up On Council Composition Meetings

Last night in Clayton (Sept. 24), 35 people showed up for the last of three public meetings to discuss a possible change in Council composition. Combined with the attendance in Almonte and Pakenham (minus the count of people who came to more than one), about 60 people attended the meetings. Given we have over 10,000 voters, that is a slim turnout.

Last night’s crowd, most of whom were from Clayton or the immediate area, were a testy bunch. There was vocal opposition to any change in Council composition—both a size reduction and creation of a deputy mayor. The tenor of the Clayton meeting was far different than in Almonte and in Pakenham, where the majority showed a willingness to accept a change.

Many people in Clayton who oppose a size reduction fear a loss of representation along the lines of: “It is hard enough to get a councillor’s attention with four, what are my chances with just three or two.”

Others wonder how well they will be represented in a smaller Council if one or more reps are not in attendance. Others fear that reducing rural councillors will give more voting strength to Almonte ward.

Opposition to the deputy mayor also seemed based on the urban-rural split. People assume a deputy mayor will most likely be from Almonte; thus, when combined with a mayor from that ward, it will mean a majority vote for urban-centric issues.

Here are my thoughts on the issues raised.

I am a populist: so, I will listen to objections and take the final tally of survey opinions into account. However, I strongly believe a change in Council composition will not be as detrimental as many fear.

Representation is not about numbers, it is about the quality of the people elected. As a councillor, it is my job to be available and responsive. I deal with every phone call and email promptly to provide answers or assistance. I have responded to every letter or email addressed to Council as a whole (with one or two exceptions). Any councillor who does not do that shouldn't be at the table.

The concept that mayors and deputy mayors will always naturally come from Almonte defies the numbers. Ramsay has more voters than Almonte ward. Ramsay and Pakenham together have 60% of the vote. It is more a matter of candidate quality and campaign effort than geography.

The rural-urban split has faded dramatically in the last three years. I and the other three rookie councillors (Abbott, Cameron and Watters) agreed early in our mandate to take a Mississippi Mills view of issues. For example, when I negotiated the policy on how to share hydro revenues last year, those three were on side, and the final vote included reps from all three wards. (If I see Ramsay ward getting the short end of the stick, I then become more partisan.)

The online survey remains open on the town web site up to September 30. If you haven’t responded, please consider doing so.