Editorial: Reform to SDG Warden worth discussing

Steeped in over 150 years of history, the position of warden of the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry was up for discussion again at the council’s October 30 Committee of the Whole meeting. The warden serves as head of the 12 member council for a term of one year, elected from within that council, by those council members. Council is comprised of the mayor and deputy mayor of each of the six lower-tier municipalities.

Every recent four year term has seen minor attempts to reform the warden’s position. In 2014-18, the ability to run for a second consecutive term was allowed. Following the abrupt removal of then-Warden Frank Prevost from office in the 2018-22 term, that council opted to make the past-warden the new deputy-warden, ensuring there was an easy-to-understand continuity of office. In both reforms, councils were unsuccessful in removing the use of drawing names from a hat to settle election tie votes – a joke in a modern democracy.

During the October 30 discussion of whether to change the warden to a two year term similar to that of neighbouring Leeds and Grenville Counties or maintain the status quo, this council opted for the latter option. However, an idea by Councillor Carma Williams to significantly reform the position was quickly glossed over by fellow council members. Should the warden be directly elected at-large by SDG voters?

The warden has been a quasi-figurehead position – ceremonial as head of council. However, it also has grown as an important representative to the province and regional organizations. SDG Counties is an extensive layer of government in the region. Its staff, and by extension council and warden, are responsible for a budget of over $70 million per year. This level of government levies property taxes which account for a larger portion of everyone’s property tax bill than the lower-tier municipality. SDG has six composite municipalities. Each warden election allows one of the six municipalities to take the lead of council for up to two years. Past experience and observation has shown that not all wardens provide equitable representation for all areas of SDG. Furthermore, only 12 people select the head of council.

The warden’s position is important enough that direct election by voters makes sense. Voters already elect lower-tier representatives to their councils. Those handle much smaller budgets than SDG. Reforming the election of warden from a 12-councillor inner circle to the broader electorate also eliminates the potential for factions or networking within council to predetermine who is elected to that position.

Having a directly elected warden, gives that person the sole responsibility of looking out for the region’s best interest, rather than competing interests from within the six lower tiers. After doing things largely the same way for over 150 years, examining the direct election of SDG Counties’ warden should not be glossed over.

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