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Calgary City Council saves face by embarrassing themselves: ward boundaries solved!

By DJ Kelly July 14, 2009

Watching Calgary City Council debate the ward boundaries for the 2010 election last night was one of the funniest moments I think I’ve seen in that hallowed chamber. I mean funny as in sad. Like a comedy of errors. A comedy of people so deep in trouble the only way out was to thoroughly embarrass themselves further.

It was a debacle for council to even keep straight what each motion was, whether it took eight or 10 votes to pass or reject it, and what the implications were for voting for or against that particular motion. At one point the mayor even apologized to members of the media awaiting their final decision for how convoluted the whole process was.

My favourite quote of the night could have been this one:

Mayor: “Is everyone clear on the question”. Several aldermen: “No!

But instead it is from this exchange between Alderman John Mar and Mayor Bronconnier:

Ald. Mar: “It’s somewhat murky here.” Mayor: “Murky began months ago.”

Murky did indeed begin months ago when council decided they wanted to add one more direction to the returning officer’s mandate (a mandate first approved in 1990): keep five wards on the east side of Deerfoot Trail. (Why they couldn’t have thought of that six months earlier before they set her to work is beyond me.) Then things got really murky when council didn’t wait for her to do her job and decided to start drawing their own boundaries. A process called gerrymandering. You can read all my thoughts on how we got to this point here, here, here, and here.

I live tweeted the whole thing and you can follow that via the #yyccc hashtag on Twitter starting at about 8pm last night.

What were the results? Everything was thrown out. Council admitted failure, apologized to the returning officer and passed only minor boundary changes from the current ones.

Here are the new boundaries for 2010:
As silly as it all seems, I’m happy council admitted the error of their ways and made the best decision they could have given the mess they created for themselves.

What are the next steps however? That is the big question. There is some thinking that these changes MAY put the City in violation of the Municipal Governance Act but I don’t think it does. Taking a look at the council agenda attachment showing the deviation of population between each new ward, everything looks a-okay on that front too.

Either way, expect two major things to come out of this:

  1. Expect a council policy to allow an outside group determine ward boundaries in the future, so council won’t get their fingers in the pie and make a mess of things like this again. This is pretty much exactly what they have done for determining their salaries and I think it has worked well. Ald. Farrell tried to pass a motion to this effect last night but as several members of council didn’t like her wording and 9:30pm was fast approaching, it was referred to administration to wordsmith and come back with a proposal in September.
  2. The next major redistricting – which normally happens every nine years (2010 being the ninth year) – will probably happen in time for 2013 now. With more time available between now and then I fully expect council to explore the possibilities of increasing the number of aldermen to created a more fair balance of representation. And a more manageable workload. You can read my thoughts on this topic here.

Stay tuned. Hopefully the next steps will be more steady than the last ones.