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New ward boundaries


Jul 18, 2016


It hasn’t attracted much interest from the public, but the city’s ward boundary review weighs heavily on city councillors as they contemplate their chances of re-election. The review says the most important principle is fair representation by population, but seven of the eight options being offered would continue to give some residents at least twice the voting power of others. 

The low turnouts for the review’s public events that ended last month may give councillors a free hand in picking the option they prefer. That decision – expected this fall – is open to challenge at the Ontario Municipal Board and the report released last month by the independent consultants seems to provide lots of ammunition for such a quasi-judicial test.

Many councillors have voted for more than a decade to block or postpone re-examination of ward boundaries – and one councillor has publicly threatened the consultants to not propose something he doesn’t like. But the consultant team stresses they are “operating independently from council and city staff” who hired them.

“Although members of city council were interviewed early in the process, the purpose of the interviews was to help the consultant team understand how well the present system meets the principles noted above and on how they could be met successfully in a modified system,” says the interim report. “All ward designs options presented are the responsibility of the consultant team and were not solicited from or vetted or endorsed by elected officials ahead of publication.”

As recently as April, half of councillors tried to postpone any changes at all. Moved by Terry Whitehead and supported by all suburban councillors, that motion failed on an 8-8 tie after an identical split blocked even receiving the consultant report.

The current voting arrangements were set up in the 2001 amalgamation forced by the provincial Conservative government of Mike Harris. They gave eight council seats to the 70 percent of residents living in old Hamilton and seven to the 30 percent in the five former suburbs.

Even at that time, the most populous ward (at 56,300) was more than five times the least populated one (with just 15,300). Since then, the former has added over 6000 more residents while the latter has gained only 1300. That's a situation the consultants say needs to change.

“When it comes to voting on matters of public policy (‘legislative power’), however, each ward representative is entitled to only one vote despite glaring population imbalances. These variations make it implausible to describe the present ward system as delivering fair or effective representation.”

The review quietly notes that “as far back as 2004, there have been efforts made to review the appropriateness of the present ward configuration in Hamilton, but these initiatives were deferred for a variety of reasons.” One 2007 attempt by Sam Merulla and former councillor Brian McHattie won a review, but it was run out of time before it could be completed for the 2010 election.

The same thing happened prior to the 2014 election, but was accompanied by another promise to redraw the boundaries after the voting. Going ahead with that was challenged by Lloyd Ferguson and Doug Conley in March 2015 but was defeated 9-6 – with all eight councillors from the old city supporting the review as well as Mayor Eisenberger.

Seven of the options for change keep dramatically varying populations (see table) In three cases, the difference between the largest and smallest ward is nearly three times and in one it is over four times. The consultants suggest a variation of 25 percent above or below the average is acceptable, but six of their options show at least four wards exceeding this standard.

The second principle is to establish wards that will still be equitable ten years from now so no revision is required until after the 2026 elections. On this score, only option 4C avoids having any wards with more than twice the population of another ward and it also best divides the current population.

It adds an extra council seat and would most alter the status quo, significantly changing all but four wards. Three would cover more rural area, the three on the mountain would shrink, and two new urban wards would be established on the south mountain. The boundaries for Lloyd Ferguson, Chad Collins, Sam Merulla and Doug Conley’s would change most, while Rob Pasuta’s rural ward disappears entirely – absorbed into others.

Population variation between current wards and options for change

Option

Highest
in 2015

Lowest
in 2015

Over 25%
variation

Highest
in 2026

Lowest
in 2026

Over 25%
variation

1

55,620

25,790

4

58,875

22,125

7

2A

53,960

18,140

6

55,175

17,475

4

2B

53,960

13,075

7

55,175

12,575

5

3A

50,630

20,915

5

56,700

20,325

3

3B

52,155

18,175

2

64,700

17,525

3

4A

48,205

23,435

4

49,200

23,400

1

4B

51,700

18,665

5

49,900

18,000

2

4C

42,430

25,105

1

48,975

29,025

1

Current

62435

16,640

5

78,850

16,075

6

 

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