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In September 2003, City of Vancouver established Vancouver Electoral Reform Commission (VERC) making recommendations on changes to the City?s Electoral system, including a possible change from an at-large system to wards. Thomas Berger, a former Supreme Court judge and head of several federal inquiries, was chosen to be the Commissioner. The first public debates were amongst academics about the different electoral models and merits and drawbacks. The second public forum involved three previous mayors to discuss which model they support and reasons for their conclusions. During the first six months of 2004, the commission held a total of 17 public forums in neighbourhoods all around Vancouver to hear from citizens about their views. The commission also provided a questionnaire asking for public opinion on the issue, which was available in print and online. It also received many other written submissions as well. Based on the feedback and discussions, Berger recommended in his report to Council on June 8, 2004 that the City should let citizens have a say and hold an October 16, 2004 vote on whether we should change from the at-large system to a ward system and increase the number of Councillors to 14 from 10. However, this recommendation was defeated in a referendum held on October 16, 2004.
Electoral reform is a perennial issue in the City of Vancouver. The debate on whether to elect a city council through a city-wide or ward system has bloomed nine times in the city's history - six times in the last 30 years alone. The issue is being addressed again, as Vancouver Electoral Reform Commissioner Thomas Berger evaluates the merits of each system, or a combination of both. After holding a series of forums and receiving public feedback on the issue, Berger will submit a report to City Council in May 2004 that will make recommendations on the City's electoral system. Since it became a city in 1886, Vancouver has used both at-large and ward systems. The first civic election in 1886 was an at-large vote. The City Council promptly split Vancouver into five wards. As the city grew, so did the number of wards.By the 1930s, the city had gone from wards to proportional representation, then back again to wards. In 1935, Vancouver moved to an at-large system, which is still in place today.
Since then, there have been several votes in Vancouver on the issue:
- 1973: 59 per cent of voters chose to keep the at-large system.
- 1978: 52 per cent voted in favour of reinstating a ward system. However, the provincial government's amendments to the Vancouver Charter, the legislation that governs the city, specified that Vancouver's electoral system could only be changed with a 60 per cent majority vote in a referendum.
- 1988: 56 per cent majority in favour of wards, which was not enough to meet the 60 per cent required.
- 1996: 59 per cent voted in favour of keeping the at-large system.
- 2004: 54 per voted opposed to adopting a ward system.