Respondents to mayor's survey call for smaller council

By Chris Hayes
Cape Breton Post
Thurs., Nov. 3, 2005

Sydney - Mayor John Morgan says there was overwhelming support in the results of his survey for reducing the size of council in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Morgan said Wednesday 89 per cent of people who responded to the survey, which was prepared in the mayor's office and went out with tax bills, wanted to cut the present number of 16 councillors.

Eight-six per cent of the 6,734 people who responded to the council size question on the survey of several issues wanted a council of 12 or fewer and 70 per cent wanted a council of 10 or fewer, he noted. The mayor noted almost half of the respondents - 47.46 per cent - wanted a council of eight or fewer. "As I interpret it, the desire for a smaller council is really overwhelming and really if you look at it, the majority of the support is for a significantly smaller council," he said.

Residents may be saying they want a council size that resembles an effective board of directors, he suggested, when asked to interpret the results. "We have seen the results in the last couple of months in terms of practical consequences of having multiple agendas at work unrelated to the best interests of the larger entity."

The mayor said without commenting on the quality of the current councillors, the larger an area represented by a councillor the more attractive it would be to a wider range of people.

Residents were split in the survey when it came to electing councillors by districts (the current method) or electing them at-large. Fifty-three per cent of the 6,949 people who responded to that question wanted councillors elected by district and 47 per cent wanted them elected at-large.

The results raise the question of whether there is a system of municipal government that can accommodate both those desires, Morgan said.

There is some opinion the Municipal Government Act doesn't allow elections at-large right now so it may not be a short-term option, he noted.

The mayor's survey was mailed out with tax bills to about 50,000 property owners, more than 7,000 of whom replied (although not all respondents answered all questions), a number Morgan characterized as a very large sample size that would yield reliable information.

Morgan, who favours downsizing to between eight and 10 who would be elected at-large, came under fire over the survey from some councillors who accused him of running a one-man show by sending it out through his office.

The mayor has said he is not confident a committee of councillors will seek additional polling on downsizing council, however.

The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board must review the council size and district boundaries before the end of 2006. Legislation requires council to make an application to the board on council size and district boundaries, and it has struck a boundary review committee to review the issue.

The mayor said that committee should accept that the majority of residents want a smaller council and if there is any doubts about the survey, to take advantage of an offer from Dartmouth-based IT company Intelivote Systems Inc. to do a free plebiscite on the issue which would resolve any lingering doubts. "Failing that I would say accept the results of the survey and implement it through the utility and review board."

The mayor expressed some doubts about the boundary review committee noting it asked for a report from municipal staff on a narrow range of issues, filed the offer from Intelivote Systems Inc. which set a March 1 deadline for a reply and hasn't set a date to reconvene. Morgan said he is prepared if necessary to make a submission to the board as a representative of the public asking it to order the plebiscite and based on the public's response to implement a smaller council.

Coun. Vince Hall, chairman of the boundary committee, said a survey that went out with tax bills was inherently flawed because it didn't include many senior citizens, young people and others who don't own their own properties while giving multiple votes to those who own many properties. "Every step of the way this is flawed." Hall said the mayor started a public campaign to downsize council shortly after a council meeting at which his leadership and relations with council were criticized. The boundary committee will find a way to get information before the people and to get meaningful public feedback, he said. "All options are on the table to be considered."

Hall, who said he isn't sure if he will seek re-election, didn't want to give his opinion about the best size of council before receiving that input, he said.

The survey results also showed:

  • 66 per cent of the 6,966 who responded to the question wanted a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides while 34 per cent did not
  • 72 per cent of the 6,906 who responded to the question wanted the CBRM to prohibit strip mining while 28 per cent were not opposed to it
  • 48 per cent of the 6,984 who responded to the query were in favour of banning VLTs, 36 per cent wanted them available only at casinos and 16 per cent were satisfied with the status quo.