Council restructuring up for discussion

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Chatham-Kent-Logoweb

When council hosts a forum on ward boundaries at its April 20 meeting, chances are no one will be leaning forward in his or her seat more than Derek Robertson.

In 2011, the Chatham councillor put forward a motion to alter the ward landscape in the municipality. It was voted down.

Chatham Mazda from Chatham Voice on Vimeo.

And now council and the community will hear from Andrew Sancton, a political science professor at the University of Western Ontario, on the idea of altering Chatham-Kent’s ward structure so each ward is made up of similar numbers of citizens.

“I will be interested in hearing his presentation and asking some very pointed questions,” Robertson said.

It’s part of a CK Community Development Forum and will be hosted by Bill Weaver, who represented North Kent on council for more than a decade. He said ward boundaries and the size of council will be part of the discussion.

Sancton is looking forward to the forum.

“Chatham-Kent is unique among Canadian municipalities in that it contains so many distinct communities,” he said in a media release. “Nevertheless, the principle of representation-by-population must be paramount in municipal government. The current C-K system has been in place since 1998. Since then, federal and provincial electoral boundaries in Ontario have been redrawn twice.  Some kind of change is unavoidable.”

That mindset is what will have Robertson on the edge of his seat. He hopes to see council move ahead with making changes during this term of office.

“Ultimately, I would like to see the governance structure of this municipality be somewhere from eight to 10 wards with one councillor per ward,” Robertson said.

Chatham-Kent has 17 councillors and a mayor. Some wards have two councillors, some three, while Chatham has six.

“I don’t think we’re 40% the size of Toronto,” Robertson joked, referring to the size of that megacity’s political body of 44 councillors and a mayor. “We are larger than London, Windsor, Sarnia, or Kitchener. Very few municipalities outside of Toronto can give us a run for our money in terms of council size.”

Robertson said he’s curious to see how the rest of council reacts to the forum, and wonders what could happen if the municipality doesn’t reshape its structure to be better aligned for representation by population.

“What I want to hear is if council chooses to not take action, I want to hear what the repercussions are at the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) should the issue be challenged,” he said.

Robertson didn’t rule out being the person who takes the matter to the OMB either.

“I might consider being the one to challenge it to the OMB, but let’s not put the cart in front of the horse. Let’s see what this council has to say,” he said.

While Robertson said there are a lot of fresh faces around the council table and believes many are open minded, he wonders how the matter will ultimately be handled. To him, keeping things as they are is not an option.

“The status quo is just a way for people to sit around and protect their seats,” he said.

One seat that isn’t protected is Robertson’s. He told The Chatham Voice he has no plans on running in 2018.

“I wanted to come in and be something of a catalyst for change. I think I’ve been that,” the two-term councillor said. “My motivation in terms of all the work I’ve done on council is for the betterment of this community.

“I’m quite pleased with my record and I’d be quite pleased to walk away to spend a little bit more time at home with my family.”

The community forum takes place at 6 p.m. in council chambers.

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