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Proposal to increase number of city councillors in Calgary stalls out, but will see further consideration

Calgary city councillors debated a proposal that could have seen their numbers grow by as many as six before the end of the decade. Calgary city councillors debated a proposal that could have seen their numbers grow by as many as six before the end of the decade.

Calgary city council has decided to keep the number of seats at the table to 14 -- for now.

Tuesday night, councillors debated a proposal that could have seen their numbers grow by as many as six before the end of the decade.

In the end, they voted 10-3 to keep the number to 14, but also to create a ward boundary commission to study the effectiveness of the current setup and report back in the fall of 2024.

The option to up the number is included within a ward boundary realignment review that was mandated to happen after the 2021 election.

Calgary has had 14 councillors since 1976.

The population then was 472,000 -- that number has since tripled.

Some councillors now say the size of their wards has become unwieldy and are asking for help.

They say redrawing ward boundaries and adding half a dozen councillors would ease their load.

"I think there's been a lot of ongoing discussions happening within council and with clerks around the workload, and how do we manage and balance that," said Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner, prior to the vote.

"When we get a hot topic that comes up, and we get 200, 300 emails, and we want to respond to a good portion of those, by the time you compile your responses, that can take one to two days' time. Anything else that could also be pressing could fall to the bottom of that list. And that's with three staff members working full time."

Penner says it's worth looking at.

Meanwhile, the councillor representing Calgary's most populous ward, Ward 5's Coun. Raj Dhaliwal, says boosting the number of councillors should take a backseat to bumping up support staff and resources.

"Do we really want to get more mouthpieces?" said Dhaliwal.

"I think we need to look at the effectiveness of how we work, or what resources we have. I'm not necessarily totally against an increasing number of councillors, I just want to make sure before we get there, let's look at the process ourselves to see if we can increase effectiveness through resource allocation."

Marc Henry, president of ThinkHQ Public Affairs, says increasing the number of councillors diminishes the influence of individual councillors.

"Because it's the old rule about economics, right? Scarcity equals value," said Henry.

"You become less relevant when there's more of you. So you're less valuable. I mean, politically speaking, you're playing economic politics. There's still only one mayor, so the mayor becomes that much more relevant."

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says boosting council numbers comes with a host of unseen costs.

"This would be a huge burden for taxpayers to cover this bill. If you start doing the math here, city councillors in Calgary make more than $117,000 per year plus benefits. Just the strict salary math on this thing, if you did this expansion, would cost $700,000 more per year." said Kris Sims, Alberta director.

"Every time you grow government, the tentacles of the bureaucracy underneath the elected officials get bigger too, right? So think of a city councillor, like a tree, there might just be one trunk standing there, but its entire root system goes everywhere. So beneath that elected city official, you've got their own political staff. And then you've got more city hall staff, the permanent bureaucracy that has to be hired on to handle all the rest of that business."

Sims also points out that increasing the number of councillors may increase the number of school board trustees in both the Catholic and public systems, as they are based on the ward system as well with a ratio of one trustee for every two councillors.

Compared to cities of similar size across Canada, Calgary's 14 councillors place the city in the middle of the pack with Halifax having 16, Ottawa topping out the list of similar-sized cities with 24 councillors, Winnipeg at 15 and, here in Alberta, Edmonton with just 12.

Calgary city councillors debated a proposal that could have seen their numbers grow by as many as six before the end of the decade.

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