The City of Kelowna’s influence on the Regional District of Central Okanagan board could be diminished under a proposed voting representation structural change.
If the currently assigned regional district voting unit of 4,000 people is increased to 5,500, Kelowna would see its representation on the 13-director board reduced from seven to six, nixing its current majority control.
If approved by the province, the change would come into effect following the 2022 civic election.
In a report to the board by RDCO chief administrative officer Brian Reardon, the issue of voter representation has been in the discussion stage with Ministry of Municipal Affairs officials since November 2019.
Reardon noted there every jurisdiction was in favour of reviewing the voter unit value, but arriving at a specific voting unit level had failed to reach consensus.
The number of votes (voting strength) to which each municipality, electoral area or Treaty First Nation is entitled, for the purposes of weighted voting, is determined by dividing the population figure by the voting unit number specified in the letters patent (constituting document) of the regional district.
Traditionally, the voting unit approximates the smallest municipal population in the regional district.
Reardon said during the review process, some directors had expressed concern about Kelowna’s majority board representation.
The RDCO is the only regional district in B.C. with the largest municipality having the ability to control matters requiring both a weighted and unweighted vote.
Based on the current voting unit value of 4,000 and conservative population growth projections, Kelowna would add an eighth director in 2022 and a ninth in 2031.
“This less than optimal from a governance perspective and creates operational challenges for City of Kelowna council members,” said Reardon.
“Based on current growth projections for our region, the disparity will worsen in the years ahead.”
The reset from 4,000 to 5,500 was seen as a compromise by the board, creating stability for the next 20 years, whereas choosing 6,000 or 6,500 would only result in the same review process to be repeated in four years.
Reardon noted with seven board appointees, Kelowna council has only one alternate director available for meetings, which over the past two years has resulted in almost half the board meetings where at least one Kelowna director was absent.
“Occasionally, there have been instances where up to three directors were absent from the City of Kelowna due to other commitments,” Reardon noted.
Gail Given, chair of the RDCO board and a Kelowna city councillor said she feels the board representation change will have a minimal impact.
“It has only been the last four years where the city has held a majority on the board. So the other 45 years of the board’s history, it didn’t really serve (the city) badly to not have a clear majority.”
Given added Kelowna council board representatives never vote as a group, and bring their own individual opinions to the regional district board debate.
“We never as council representatives showed up to vote as a block, there are never any meetings ahead of time to decide how we will vote on any given item,” she said.
Given said the bigger challenge for the city was fielding enough representatives for board meetings, with only one alternative, and the prospect of adding two new board members over the next decade was going to pose attendance issues.
“I don’t think adding more directors to the board is how you get better governance,” she said.
“The option we are seeking offers the most board stability for the longest period of time.”