Coun­cil­lors vote for their own ward bound­ary plan

Study says it fails to ad­dress rep­re­sen­ta­tion by pop­u­la­tion; likely headed to OMB

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN

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.

COUR­TESY CITY OF HAMIL­TON

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.”

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