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Ward boundary changes

Nov 28, 2016

Citizens are moving to ensure that ward boundaries are redrawn before the next city elections after city council again delayed a decision and instead invited individual councillors to suggest amendments to options prepared by an independent consultant. Further complicating the issue, the consultant’s two options don’t include the one that garnered the most favour when suggested last spring.

The spring interim report offered eight ways to address the differences that range from under 17,000 to over 60,000 residents in the current 15 ward set-up. The options were grouped into five categories, with an expansion to 16 seats winning 60 percent support from those who reviewed and commented on the interim report.

The next closest – supported by 14 percent each – were the two fifteen-seat options: one preserving the pre-amalgamation arrangements where the former suburbs were given nearly half the council seats with only a third of the residents, and the other redrawing the boundaries to more equalize the population per ward. The other choices – re-drawing boundaries to align with federal constituency boundaries and no change at all to the wards – were only endorsed by 7% and 5% respectively.

The consultants are firm that keeping the current boundaries is not acceptable. “It would be improbable that a ward system review aiming to meet the principles … would recommend a structure using the existing ward boundaries and, therefore, it is our conclusion that council should move to change from the status quo.”

In the interim report, there were three options for the 16-seat arrangement, with the one that most equalized the wards by population being by far the most favoured – winning more first place votes than all other choices in all categories combined. But without any explanation, that option had not been included in the consultants’ final report.

Instead they recommend two new options – one with 15-seats and one with 16. The latter has eight wards that have more than twice the population of the smallest ward. The range is 19,500 to nearly 46,000. And when expected growth to 2026 is calculated, that disparity gets even greater – with the smallest ward expected to shrink to less than 19,000 and the largest to grow to over 50,000, leaving fully eleven wards with more that twice the population of the smallest one.

The new 16-seat proposal, however, retains an obvious ward for each current member of council with boundaries similar to or somewhat smaller than the current ones. That’s something that the favoured option in the interim report did not do.

The 15-seat proposal eliminates one of the two Flamborough seats and adds a new ward on the south mountain while also modifying the boundaries for Stoney Creek and Glanbrook seats. The nine wards within the old city would average just under 41,000 residents, but three of the suburban seats would still have less than 29,000. Population growth to 2026 would put most in the 35,000-48,000 range but two would exceed 50,000 and one remain below 30,000.

The general issues committee of council deliberated on the two consultant recommendations late last month and decided to give individual councillors until November 30 to suggest “alternative ward boundary model options” to the consultants. The guiding principles for the boundary review were set by city council resolution, and each councillor was also interviewed by the consultants before public consultation began.

This is just the latest in years of delay dating back to 2004. That plus concerns about councillors’ drawing their boundaries to their own benefit have spurred a citizen petition that will force a decision. If council fails to act, the petition will allow an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board which will decide on the new ward boundaries.

The petition requires hard copy signatures and those signing must be on the voters list and still at the same address as they were at the last municipal election in 2014. Completed copies of the petition can be delivered to Mixed Media (154 James North at Cannon Street). 

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