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This article was published 24/2/2009 (3044 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A senior city councillor is prepared to go to bat for the creation of a new exclusively downtown ward — one which could have a representative chosen by all Winnipeggers.
St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel has drawn up a motion calling for officials to look into adding a new downtown ward to the seats on city council.
While Swandel, who is also deputy mayor, suggested the person who would represent the new downtown ward could be elected by all Winnipeggers rather than simply downtown residents, he is not yet talking at length about his vision.
But that didn’t stop downtown advocates and councillors whose wards currently take in parts of downtown from discussing Swandel’s plan.
Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan said he had seen Swandel’s motion — but didn’t like the idea of having all city residents elect the new councillor.
"You can’t mix it up, in my opinion," Pagtakhan said, referring to the current electoral system in which people in 15 areas vote for their respective councillors and to Swandel’s plan for electing the new downtown councillor citywide.
"It’s like voting for a second mayor," Pagtakhan added. "The downtown ward (would be) like running for mayor. What is that? That’s two systems. I guess it could happen. I just think it’s strange."
The city is preparing to review ward boundaries this spring or in early summer. Swandel sees the possibility of a new downtown ward as part of that review.
Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith, whose ward takes in much of the eastern edge of downtown, has reservations.
"It’s not a good idea," Smith said. "Three councillors representing an area is better than one councillor... It seems to me a candidate for that ward would have to communicate with the whole city. It would be way too costly for only one person to do."
Besides Point Douglas and Daniel McIntyre, Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry ward, represented by Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, takes in part of the city’s downtown.
"If that one councillor has one vote, then it’s still only one vote for the downtown," Gerbasi said, when asked about Swandel’s plan. "It doesn’t give the downtown more power."
Swandel himself admitted there might be little time to have a new ward in place before the next election in fall 2010.
The city’s charter allows council to add multiples of two wards in order to maintain an odd number of council seats. To add two wards, council would simply pass a bylaw creating the new seats on council.
To add one ward though, or to have that ward represented by a councillor elected by all Winnipeggers, would require a change to the city’s charter — and provincial-government intervention.
Moreover, new wards must be set out at least 18 months before Winnipeggers go to the polls.
Despite such hurdles, Swandel’s plan had its supporters.
"I would like to see one councillor represent the downtown," said Ross McGowan, president and chief executive of CentreVenture Development Corp., the city’s downtown economic development agency.
McGowan said he had advocated such a plan for two years and had spoken to Swandel about it.
The downtown currently has about 13,000 residents, significantly fewer than other city wards, which have up to 36,000 voters. St. James-Brooklands is the smallest city ward with about 22,500 electors.
McGowan liked the idea of having all Winnipeggers elect a councillor for an area of the city often at the centre of public dialogue.
"This might help bridge the suburban- urban debate," he said.