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Warden: little interest in elected at-large head of county council

by David Meyer

WELLINGTON CTY. - An announcement that Durham Region residents have been given the right to elect their council chairman will create no copycat moves from this municipality.

The regional council in Durham asked the province in 2010 to pass a regulation allowing it to elect its chairman instead of having someone appointed.

Municipal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne signed a regulation recently that will allow Durham residents to decide if they want to elect their head of regional council.

In order for that to happen, the regional council and at least five of the eight local councils in Durham must pass resolutions supporting the change before it can take effect.

It is a similar type of majority that was required when Wellington County amalgamated at the end of the last century.

When asked if Wellington County has any plans to push for an elected head of county council, Warden Chris White said “No. Not at this point.”

He added, “Regional government is a little different” from county governments.

When reminded the two officers responsible for writing the amalgamation order for Wellington County stated their strongest recommendation was to have an elected-at-large warden, White said, “I wasn’t around for amalgamation.”

He noted, though, county council “had a pretty good discussion last term” about county governance.

County council has made some changes since amalgamation with regard to the top job. There is no longer a sense that each person can have “a turn” at the top post simply by being on council a long time. Further, wardens have, in the past ten years, been elected for more than one term.

The most recent move was to make the warden’s job a two-year term. The province helped with that move by extending municipal council terms to four years instead of three.

The public must also be consulted before Durham changes the rules to allow people to elect the regional chairman.

Durham Region includes Oshawa, Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Clarington and the townships of Brock, Scugog and Uxbridge.

The regional chairmen in Halton and Waterloo Regions are elected directly by voters, while other heads of regional and county councils in Ontario are appointed by their elected councils.

White said of the possibility of a warden elected by all the people instead of county council, “I’m not averse to it.”

But, he added, “The current system is working reasonably well.”

He noted the county system is similar to the provincial and federal governments, where parties choose leaders, and not the electorate.

“We’ve got a longer term for warden that makes sense,” White concluded. “It takes time to learn the system.”

January 20, 2012


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