Redrawing Toronto

May 30, 2011

I chuckled a little bit, reading Patrick White’s Globe article from Friday about Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday’s next task of ‘redrawing Toronto’s dated electoral boundaries.’ “Now that he’s [Holyday] approaching the home stretch of a months-long effort to slash egregious councillor expenses…”, the piece began. Images bounced around my noggin. Rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. Reducing the number of fiddlers as the city burned. Etc., etc.

Even giving inflated figures, say $30 K cuts in ‘egregious’ councillor spending, that amounts to about $1, 320, 000 million, let’s call it $1.5 million in savings to city coffers. But a small fraction of the lost revenue in eliminating the VRT and freezing property taxes that the Deputy Mayor helped push through. The net effect of adding to Toronto’s ever increasing operating budge hole. Well done, fiscal conservatives. Sound management of the city’s finances.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have often been chided, by friends included, of sniffing at Team Ford’s multi-fronted attacks on the Gravy Train. It’s the reason he was elected, we’re told. Cutting taxes and wasteful spending. It’s all about optics, reality be damned.

So, fine. I give the Deputy Mayor and all those slaving away to maintain the mayor’s optics a tip of the hat. Well done, folks. Reality can wait until the fall when the 2012 budget debates begin and you have to struggle to keep up the appearance of Mayor Ford’s other campaign platform of No Major Service Cuts. Guaranteed.

That said if, as the Globe piece also notes, Deputy Mayor Holyday is serious about tackling the thorny issue of ward redistribution, our kudos will be much less facetious. It is a non-partisan concern that cuts to the heart of democracy. Citizens deserve as close to equal representation as is feasible, especially at the municipal level which is so day-to-day service oriented. Wide variations between wards will invariably result in wide variations in how councillors serve their constituents.

And as it stands right now, there are wide variations. Huge, gaping differences in populations between wards, in fact. It’s almost a 35,000 person disparity between the most populous ward (John Filion’s Willowdale 23 at 79,435) and the least (Maria Augimeri’s Ward 9 with just under 45,000 residents). How could Mr. Filion be anywhere near as attentive to the needs of his constituents as Ms. Augimeri is to hers? In fairness, we should really determine councillor’s office budgets on a per head basis.

In the Globe article, Councillor Adam Vaughan suggests that if redistribution were to happen properly, it would swing council to the left. We’d like to see his methodology behind that line of reasoning as many of the suburban ridings (including Ward 23) are the more populous ones. Scarborough especially has more than its share of hugely populated, 60K+ wards. Given that the former municipality is home to some of the current mayor’s most ardent supporters (Councillors Michael Thompson, Norm Kelly, Chin Lee), it’s hard to see how splitting those wards is going to enhance the left at council.

But that’s beside the point. Redrawing ward maps need to transcend political affiliation. Elected officials should have as little hand in the process as possible. If the Deputy Mayor can successfully pull such a feat off, it will be a shiny medal he can rightfully pin to his chest.

A bigger hurdle still will be navigating a new municipal political map with the mayor’s campaign pledge to cut councillor numbers in half. (More meaningless and possibly detrimental optics!) In the Globe article, the Deputy Mayor was already distancing himself from that promise. “That’s the mayor’s office that will have to come up with a plan for that,” Holyday said. “I don’t know that my plan is exactly the same as his.” With some wards already struggling under the weight of a 60, 70K+ population, it’s hard to see how having wards with 100,000 people will be of benefit to anyone.

Except for Mayor Ford’s optics. An ‘I said I would do it. I did it’ claim is an empty boast if the city is the worse for it. And it’s hard to see how it won’t be if we wind up further under-represented even if the pain is more equally shared.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr