Since 2019, the city of Lethbridge has had a population greater than 100,000 people and operates under an at-large election format, meaning voters choose eight councillors and a single mayor to represent the entire city.
However, that could change by 2025, as the discussion around implementing a ward system continues.
“Wards are essentially a constituency, similar to (what is represented by) an MP or an MLA,” explained University of Lethbridge political science professor Lars Hallstrom.
“It’s a physical space that may have one or more representatives for that population, and for that space. So it’s a way to break up the geography and the demography of the city.”
Implementing a ward system would mean residents vote for a mayor at large, but only select from candidates in their own ward.
That would also mean a smaller number of candidates would be on each ballot. Thirty-two councillor candidates are running in the Oct. 18, 2021 race.
“It does simplify voter choice, which makes it more likely for people to vote,” Hallstrom added.
Voters will be questioned about their stance on whether or not to adopt a ward system in 2025 when they head to the polls later this month.
While the question is non-binding, meaning the outcome won’t necessitate any action, Coun. Jeffrey Coffman hopes the new council will take the outcome seriously.
“I think anything over 50 per cent should be seriously considered by council,” he explained. “They’ve got four years to shift to a different model in 2025 (and) four years to interact with the community, talk to the community about what would you like to see (and) how would you like to see this unfold.”
Coffman, who brought forward the idea of including a ward question on the ballot in July, explained Lethbridge is naturally divided between north, south and west Lethbridge.
“A ward system actually works very well here,” he said.
Hallstrom added that a ward system could exist in a variety of formats.
“One option is a hybrid model, where you have a small number — let’s say five wards,” he said. “And then three council members who are at large, who are there to represent the city as a whole.”
Kate Connolly, the president of the London Road Neighbourhood Association, said although the group hasn’t discussed this issue in detail, many are in favour of the idea.
“In general, with the informal discussions that I’ve had with many of our board members, the general feeling is that they’re in support of it,” she said.
“They feel that it would perhaps lead to better representation for our area, and would also make councilors somewhat more accountable to everyone.”