Municipality against democracy?

unfair representation

We often take democracy for granted in Canada. When areas grow, governments change division borders to represent the new demographic fairly. It’s not a perfect system where every division is exactly the same size all of the time, but attention is given to adjust them on a regular basis. It is the core of democracy to have fair representation, and it’s because of that these changes are made regularly as municipalities, provinces and countries grow.

Imagine if Saskatoon had its population on the east side at 51% and the west side at 49%, but the west side of the river had only 1 council seat while the east side had 5. Obviously, this is a ridiculous notion. This would not be fair representation and it is reasonable to assume that the interests of the west would not being treated as important as the interests of the east. The single west councilor would also have 5x the constituents and their concerns than any of the other councilors would have. Crazy talk, I know. How would a municipality like that operate? Let’s look at some scenarios.

The city requires a new garbage dump and council must decide where to put it. None of the councilors want it in their constituency, nor do their rate payers. When the time comes to vote, the result is 5-1 to place it on the west side.

The city has been doing well, creeping up taxes the way cities do. What a great time to add some value to our community! Maybe a new arena? Or one of those big recreation complexes with a pool and a rink? It is unanimously decided that a new recreation facility is the best choice for the community and families. Followed by a 5-1 vote to place it on the east side where the 5 east zones converge.

A large corporation wants to erect a giant communications tower, and they are willing to make it worth the cities while to allow them to do so. This will be a giant eyesore and will also have extremely bright flashing lights, but it is lucrative. Vote 5-1 for a location on the west side.

No amount of reasoning will convince council to change the division borders. After all, they have a good thing going. Half the tax comes from the west and it gets spent in the east. You get the picture. This example is not democratic and it is definitely not fair. If only it was fiction.

This exact scenario is playing out in municipalities in Saskatchewan right now, but one in particular is most alarming.

RM #373 of Aberdeen has permitted its population to almost double in the past decade or so. They have purposely allowed this to happen in 1 voting division of 6, resulting in that one division accounting for appx 50% of both the population and revenue of the RM. Many say the numbers are higher, but the RM does not appear to be very sure of the numbers they reluctantly provide. Residents of this division, which a majority are zoned Country Residential, enjoy property taxes calculated at 130% and 236% of that of their two neighboring RM’s, a recently opened gravel pit that was discretely voted on in council with no notice to the residents, and a communications tower that was approved with nearly 100% of the division against it and a petition delivered.

It shocks to me learn that there are no laws in place to enforce democracy. I contacted the provincial government but no one could find any laws at the various branches of government I spoke to that would prevent situations like I have described here. The only solution is to force a referendum, which the people did and is currently in the voting stage with early voting held on December 3rd and final vote on December 14th. As proposed by the petition for referendum, the RM would have 5 equally populated divisions. In other words, fair representation or democracy.

While the RM must legally remain neutral in a referendum, the council has taken it upon themselves to push the envelope in their war against equality and an inclusive community. They make no mention in the mandatory referendum notice to rate payers that the purpose is to equalize the divisions or that the proposed divisions represent equal distribution. In fact, it is represented as arbitrarily changing lines on a map for no reason, and nowhere on any document or website does the RM state the purpose is equal representation. Then the council saw fit to issue a propaganda letter to rate payers stating that this entire situation is because of a small group of people spreading lies. In this public letter, they state that if the divisions were altered (insert fair and democratic) the RM could become unstable financially and the community could suffer because the decisions made at the council table would not be in the spirit of community. Basically saying, if we let that half of our community have a fair say, everyone will suffer. One must wonder what goes on in that council chamber to have such a negative view of half the population they fail to represent. 

So, it comes down to this vote. If the council has managed to strike enough fear in the hearts of just over half the population, they will continue to dictate how the other half of the population lives. Or, people will come together and share the responsibilities equally and the RM will benefit from a better sense of community, one that the current council has neglected to nurture. This is the state of democracy in the RM of Aberdeen. I hope that you will share this story to help prevent this type of unfair representation in the future. Good luck Aberdeen!

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