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“City Hall More Lively as Election Gossip Starts,” reads a headline in the Vancouver Sun, as, for the first time since 1886, a city election will be held without the traditional Ward System.
“Although civic election day seems to the ‘man in the street’ a long way off, the corridors of the City Hall are already beginning to buzz with rumours,” the paper reports. “Those who intend entering the contests have to be far-seeing and, with a new factor to be considered in the Proportional Representation system of voting, interest has begun to be manifested earlier than usual.”
Ever since the first council meeting, Vancouver has used a Ward system for electing civic government, with the wards increasing in size, and in number over the years from five to eight. However, early in 1920, a referendum was held on election policy, with result being a citywide switch to proportional representation.
“All the present Aldermen are likely to try their luck again in the ‘free-for-all’ scramble which the P.R. system of ‘Aldermen-at-Large’ will create,” the paper reports, “and many of the hardy annuals who have been only occasionally successful under the ward system are likely to make the experiment of appealing to the voters of the whole city.”
Unfortunately, the at-large system will prove unpopular with voters, and a return to wards will take place only three years later. The city of Vancouver will change its municipal election particulars a number of times in the ensuing 80 years, adding wards, changing the length of terms, flipping back and forth between the two electoral systems and holding no fewer than eight referendums on the ward/at-large question.
Finally, after extensive public consultation, meetings with the provincial government, recommendations from an Elections Committee, and several referendums, the city will decide to keep the at-large system.
A referendum to resintitute city wards in 1990 will fall short by 4%.
IMAGE: Council Chamber, June 1941. Image Courtesy of the Vancouver Archives.