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Extra council seat endorsed


Oct 19, 2008


The city’s governance committee is recommending adding an extra ward for the 2010 elections. The move is a compromise to avoid the cost of a general re-drawing of the electoral map that would address large differences in population per ward.

The average suburban councillor currently represents about two-thirds as many voters as a councillor from the former city of Hamilton (see table below), and that has aggravated tensions on numerous issues. The uneven distribution was a product of amalgamation, but has been lessened to some extent since then by faster growth in the former suburbs.

At the time of the 2006 elections, the number of registered voters per ward varied dramatically – from 11,682 in the rural Flamborough area to 38,478 in the central mountain ward. Most others fell within 15 percent of the average size of 21,149, but there was considerable disparity between the old city and the former suburbs.

If a change is to occur, provincial rules require that it be finalized by December 31 2009, staffer Tony Fallis told the council’s governance committee at its meeting on October 16. He explained that there is no set process for how this is accomplished.

“It’s not regulated by the province anymore,” he said. “It used to be under the Municipal Act and now it’s been handed down to the individual councils themselves.”

He added that any decision by council can be appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). Citizens can also initiate changes – something that was done in London a few years ago where the council rejected the proposals but was overruled by the OMB.

Several committee members expressed concern about the cost of a council-initiated review of the ward boundaries, and committee chair Russ Powers suggested there may be insufficient time to complete it by the deadline.

In response, Dave Mitchell suggested the alternative of creating a new council seat from parts of wards 7 and 8

“It would make real good sense – for one term of council or maybe two, but it would do a huge correction factor there,” he argued, noting that expanding the council could avoid tie votes. [W]e have 15 ward councillors now and a mayor, that’s 16. Most councils aren’t set up that way. Most councils are set up there’s an odd number. So that could put a correction factor into it as well.”

Ward 8 councillor Terry Whitehead endorsed the idea, suggesting that it could also include parts of Mitchell’s ward which is growing rapidly.

“It would be a very interesting ward because it would be the first ward that will be reflecting old and new in regards to the amalgamation – part of the old and part of the new,” he noted. “And ultimately I think it’s probably where we need to go in the long term.”

The idea was also supported by Maria Pearson and chair Powers. The latter said his review of the decisions of the transition board that set up the current council at amalgamation found no requirement for any formal review of ward boundaries, but he noted they were set up under a very tight deadline.

“Particularly the creation of the wards was done in a very hasty manner,” recalled Powers. “It was just easier to leave the eight existing Hamilton wards as they were and then kind of do a cursory look at how to hive out the rest of the suburbs in the seven wards, in order to meet that deadline.”

The committee is also calling for re-examination of the office and expense budgets of councillors to reflect the varied number of constituents and other factors such as the geographic size of their wards. Examination of a representation by population system was abandoned.

“My sense from my colleagues is that the rep by pop was another way of getting some place,” suggested Whitehead. “If an extra ward was created on the mountain, based on population, I think that would achieve the end result.”

The wording of the decision was left to Powers and the staff to work out, and it is subject to council ratification, and would require at least one public meeting, although both Whitehead and Mitchell expressed some concern about getting citizens involved.

Whitehead said the time to get the community involved was in a full-scale re-examination of ward boundaries, while Mitchell warned that opening this up could would “ignite all of that Freedom Train” – a reference to groups opposed to amalgamation.

“It’s kind of gone very quiet, lately, but you know if you head in this direction … that issue is going to raise its head big, big time again. It’s always there.”

Registered voters
in the 2006 election

Ward

Voters

1

21,215

2

19,786

3

23,913

4

23,322

5

24,937

6

27,699

7

38,478

8

32,996

City

212,346

9

18,202

10

19,112

11

19,488

12

22,130

13

17,994

14

11,682

15

17,445

Suburbs

126,053

Total

338,399

Source: http://old.hamilton.ca/clerk/election/2006-election-results/defaultpollbypoll.asp

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