Councillors vote for their own ward boundary plan
Study says it fails to address representation by population; likely headed to OMB
Councillors will adopt their own suggested ward boundary changes over the expert advice of a $260,000, yearlong independent review — and the threat of an appeal.
The consultants who worked on the review said Wednesday the political map created from councillor submissions fails to address the concerns that kick-started the study in the first place — growing ward population disparities and fair representation.
Consultant Robert Williams also warned if the proposed new ward map is appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board, “I’ve told you in black and white, we couldn’t endorse it.”
That prospective appeal is “100 per cent going to happen,” said Matt Jelly, one of the organizers of a petition to change ward boundaries the city’s own consultants called “no longer defensible.” He said the group behind the petition has already talked to a pro-bono lawyer about an appeal.
An angry Jelly stalked out of council chambers after councillors voted 11-3 to endorse their own suggested ward map over two consultant-recommended alternatives, yelling “bye a-holes.”
The debate inspired passionate rhetoric on both sides.
Coun. Terry Whitehead argued the consultant-suggested boundaries would “decimate” neighbourhoods while Coun. Matthew Green denounced the councillor-suggested map as “gerrymandering.”
That term means manipulating boundaries of an electoral district to create a political advantage for a particular group.
Green urged councillors instead to support a consultant-pitched 16-ward configuration that would have added a new councillor on the populous Mountain. But only Green, Mayor Fred Eisenberger and councillors Jason Farr and Aidan Johnson supported that idea.
The review consultants actually made recommendations last year, but were asked to collect councillors’ suggestions and incorporate them into an additional option.
Williams said at Wednesday’s meeting the councillor-suggested map “straightens out some lines” but doesn’t “fundamentally change the existing structure.”
Under that option, the city’s most populous ward by 2026 would still be Ward 7, with around 70,000 people represented by one councillor. The same number of residents would live in Wards 10, 13 and 14 combined, yet be represented by three councillors. Council must ratify Wednesday’s decision at an upcoming council meeting. If that decision is appealed, the Ontario Municipal Board could uphold the councilapproved boundaries, send the city back to the drawing board, or impose its own changes.
Coun. Sam Merulla said he’s not opposed to that outcome. “It should have gone to an independent body right from the start,” said the Ward 4 councillor, who added he was “uncomfortable” with a process he believes sets up councillors for conflict.
The mayor also later voted with the majority, noting the “flawed” process of asking councillors to make decisions about their own political boundaries “leaves us in an untenable position.”
Councillors Rob Pasuta and Doug Conley missed the vote for health reasons.
It should have gone to an independent body, right from the start. COUN. SAM MERULLA
Coun. Matthew Green urged support for new Mountain ward.
This ward boundary review map shows Option 1, which is a modified version of the existing ward structure based on council feedback. A consultant says this option doesn’t “fundamentally change the existing structure.”