Cornwall ward system opinion somewhat split, survey shows

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – A community survey shows opinion is almost split on whether Cornwall councillors should represent sections of the city or the municipality as a whole.

The city’s survey shows 51.4 per cent favour a ward system while 48.6 per cent don’t want a ward system and would rather have councillors represent all voters.

As for the size of council, 21 per cent want to keep it the same at 10 councillors, 44 per cent want eight councillors and 36 per cent are for six councillors.

The city advertised in two local newspapers and on Facebook, sent 2,000 random mailers and had a two month online survey.

It managed to garner 1,764 responses – or 5.4 per cent of city voting pool in the 2018 election. It also received nearly 300 comments on those surveys.

Of those responses, 554 were returned from the 2,000 mailers and the newspaper ads while the rest were online.

The city had wanted 2,500 responses or 20 per cent of those who cast ballots in the 2018 election. There were 32,794 registered voters in 2018 so had the city received 2,500 responses, it would have represented 7.6 per cent of the views of the voting public.

The city had a ward system before but it was changed to an election at large in 1975. Cornwall voters previously shaved the size of council from 12 to 10 councillors in 1985, which took effect in 1988.

If the current council wants to change the size of council for the 2022 municipal election, it has to pass a bylaw before the end of next year. While the change in council size is pretty straightforward, the ward system is a more complicated process with legal reviews and appeal periods under the Ontario Municipal Act.

But that’s not the only hurdle. In order for the change to stick, at least 50 per cent of eligible voters must vote on the questions on Election Day in order for the results to be binding. In 2018, Cornwall voter turnout was 38 per cent.

Council will discuss the plan tonight (Sept. 28) at 7 p.m. and figure out whether to proceed with a referendum on wards and council size in the next municipal election.