“For our next municipal elections in 2022 the Town of Aurora will be divided into 6 wards and residents will be able to cast 1 vote for Mayor and 1 vote for Councillor in their respective ward. Although it does not make much difference now, there remains some controversy surrounding how Aurora Council decided to switch our electoral system from ‘at-large’ to ‘wards’.
Some may recall the 2014 Municipal Elections referendum ballot questions where voters rejected the change to wards, but since then there has not been a formal electoral system review held with the public. The only public consultation was during the time of ‘ward boundaries review’; leaving some residents to question when did the public agree to move to a ward system?
In 2017 a Governance Review Ad Hoc Committee (GRAHC) was formed, about a year and a half before the 2018 Municipal Elections. I was asked to apply and was selected as a member. When I joined the GRAHC, I understood that we were to review and recommend the most suitable electoral system to Council, that being either changing to a ‘ward system‘ or remaining with the current ‘at-large system’. However as time progressed it became clearer that Council was expecting the Committee to recommend the change to wards.
The Committee reviewed a ward system implementation and determined that it was not feasible to implement wards in 2017 for the 2018 Municipal Elections. The Committee agreed unanimously that to implement such a critical change correctly would require more time. We concluded and recommended to Council that the electoral system review process be postponed until the next Council Term 2018-2022. Council agreed with our recommendation.
Then unexpectedly, just a few months later that year, on October 24, 2017 Council voted in favour of Cllr Humfryes’ motion on ‘Reduction of Council Size,’ changing from 8 Council members to 6. Interestingly enough, the debate during that meeting was focused on wards, where the ‘reduction of council size motion’ was actually presented as the ‘first step’ followed by dividing Aurora into wards as the ‘second step’. The GRAHC was surprised by the sudden motion by Cllr Humfryes and especially by her statement that the Committee recommended Council size reduction. There was never a recommendation from the GRAHC to reduce Council size. Unfortunately multiple members of Council have made similar statements that incorrectly referenced support from the GRAHC.
After the 2018 Municipal Elections a new GRAHC (Council Term 2018-2022) was formed to continue with the electoral system review. I didn’t apply this time around. The new GRAHC committee stated: “… the review should not begin until the Province provides confirmation that the Town’s boundaries will remain unchanged as a result of the Regional Government Review.” At the May 7, 2019 meeting, Mayor Mrakas assured Council verbally that he received verbal confirmation from Christine Elliot, MPP Newmarket-Aurora, that there will be no change to the Town’s outside boundaries. Then on May 14, 2019, just a week later, Cllr Thompson unexpectedly ends the electoral system review part of the project by amending a main motion “that Council endorse, in principle, the electing of all Aurora councillors, other than the Mayor, by ward vote instead of general Town-wide vote.” From that point on, it appeared that an ‘at-large system’ was no longer up for discussion.
Furthermore, in the May 23, 2019 issue of The Auroran, Mayor Mrakas in his weekly column Getting Things Done states: “Last term of Council, the governance committee made recommendations to move to a ward system and to reduce the number of Councillors from 8 to 6.” Unfortunately it seems that Mayor Mrakas, Cllr Humfryes, Cllr Kim, and Cllr Thompson have all made similar remarks on record misstating the GRAHC recommendations. There was never a recommendation from the GRAHC to reduce Council size or to implement a ward system in Aurora. Since any recommendations of the GRAHC remain a matter of public record, any aforementioned statements that are not consistent with those official records should simply be corrected.
Perhaps at the end of all this there is a recommendation for members of Council that would like to be genuine and maintain their integrity. If you truly believe public input is required before making a decision, then you need to take the appropriate actions to obtain that input. Similarly, if you truly believe you require a Committee to provide recommendations then you need to support that Committee to the end of the process. When you don’t believe public input or Committee recommendations are required and you have the authority and competence to make a decision, take accountability and be genuine when sharing information with the public.
Anna Lozyk Romeo