The United Counties of Prescott and Russell’s (UCPR) mayors had a lively discussion at the February 9 Committee of the Whole about the future of the weighted voting system that UCPR council uses to make decisions.
According to a UCPR by-law, each of the eight municipalities gets one vote per 3,000 registered voters, up to a maximum of 10 votes per 30,000 registered voters. Presently, Alfred and Plantagenet, Champlain, and Hawkesbury each have three votes. La Nation and Russell each have four votes, and Casselman and East Hawkesbury each have one vote. Clarence-Rockland has seven votes. In total, 26 votes are allotted among all eight UCPR municipalities.
The weighted vote system is used whenever UCPR council makes a decision using a registered vote. Any mayor may request a registered vote.
Warden Daniel Lafleur initiated the discussion, due to the fact that significant population growth in Clarence-Rockland and Russell means both municipalities could combine to control all decisions made by council.
Russell Mayor Pierre Leroux said that right now, depending on the alignment, three mayors can determine the outcome of a decision. He is also satisfied with the system as it exists.
“I am very comfortable with the system – it is a good representation of the population,” said Leroux.
Lafleur noted in closed sessions of UCPR council that registered votes are very rare and only occur a few times a year.
“Hey, listen. This is going to be a heated conversation. It’s going to be a heated topic,” said Clarence-Rockland Mayor Mario Zanth, who then explained why growth is taking place in the western part of the UCPR.
“The reasons why I’ll say that Russell and Embrun, and Clarence-Rockland are growing at the speed that they’re at and maybe surpassing other municipalities is that we’re stuck to Ottawa. And so, it’s natural for people to go from Ottawa on the outskirts, and we’re getting that.”
Zanth said the growth is affecting communities beyond the fastest-growing municipalities. He pointed out that Wendover is larger today than 10 years ago.
“What’s good for Clarence-Rockland, Russell, and Embrun is going to be good for the whole of the united counties,” said Zanth.
The Clarence-Rockland Mayor defended weighted system of votes based on the number of registered voters.
“I don’t believe we should have the same votes as Casselman,” said Zanth.
Alfred and Plantagenet Mayor Stéphane Sarrazin said that at UCPR council, he represents his entire municipality, which includes seven villages, and all decisions are made with the security and welfare of all citizens in mind.
“I think the voting system divides municipalities a bit,” Sarrazin said.
Sarrazin said he does not like to create competition between municipalities and that as Warden in 2021, he worked with all municipal administrations. Sarrazin referred to how in 2017, the weighted votes of three municipalities allowed the Official Plan Amendment to carry, which enables the proposed controversial L’Orignal cement plant, even though Champlain’s mayor at the time voted against it.
Champlain Mayor Riopel acknowledged deficiencies with the system, but said he always tries to represent the best interests of his municipality and prefers to see the mayors work as a team.
Zanth agreed and suggested council could enact a by-law to prohibit the misuse of weighted votes on issues such as controversial planning decisions.
“We review this by-law every four years, so technically it’s for the new council. I’m comfortable to leave this with the new council,” said Leroux.
“I think it’s important to have a discussion,” said Lafleur.
He noted there was no vote or recommendation to be decided upon. Lafleur hoped there will be a larger discussion with the new UCPR council following the election in November.