Student groups scrutinize wards

Waterloo’s mayor and council received a letter last month addressing concerns that students are under-represented as a result of the current ward boundaries which divide the student population.

The letter sent by Griffin Carpenter, chair of the ward review committee for the Mayor’s Student Advisory Council, and Kory Preston, Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union vice-president of university affairs, outlined concerns with the current ward system and provided recommendations for a more representative model.

While Laurier resides in ward seven, the area north of University Avenue West and encompassing the University of Waterloo resides in ward six.

This not only divides the two universities into separate wards, but also students who live in Northdale and those who live south of Laurier.

“What this means is that even though there is a large number of students in Waterloo, there is unlikely to be a representative on city council that responds to student issues because the student voice becomes a minority in two separate wards instead of a more powerful voice in one ward,” said Carpenter.

In addition to students becoming a minority group within each ward, the wards themselves become polarized by the differing needs of students and permanent residents.

“These councillors are asked to represent more people than other councillors are and also asked to represent very diverse opinions, which to no fault of their own, makes it difficult to be very effective representation of all of those groups through that one councillor,” explained Preston.

Thus a more representative model was suggested in the letter to change ward boundaries, which would encompass both universities in a single ward.

This recommendation reflects an option proposed to council in 2005 to hold both universities in ward six when the boundaries were last discussed.

It was not put to motion unlike the current divided model, which passed narrowly 3-2.

“The scenario where students were put in separate wards was given a positive spin in that it was argued that there would be more representation if the students were in different ward because there would be two councillors responding to student concerns instead of just one,” said Carpenter.

However, the issue will not be addressed in time for the municipal election this fall.

“City policy states that if there is changes made to ward boundaries they have to be made a year before an election,” said Carpenter.

Though it will not be considered for quite some time the recommendation has set the foundation for discussing the representation of the student population and bringing forth ideas to improve it.

“I think that this would be something for the next council to look at early in 2011 and start having that [discussion],” said Mayor Brenda Halloran, in response to the students’ letter.

Until the issue can be formally addressed, it brings forward the importance of student engagement in the community.

“If we can start this type of discourse in the surrounding community about what the needs of students are around Laurier then we’d have succeeded at least in bringing that to the forefront,” said Preston.