In the quiet before the hubbub of the new administration at City Hall starts up again next month, retiring city councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby penned an opinion piece in the Toronto Star this week about what could be, arguably, the most important piece of governance business that will emerge next term: ward boundary review.
By provincial mandate, ward resident populations must be relatively uniform across the city. Toronto’s already been challenged by the Ontario Municipal Board as, I think, the requirement stipulates that no ward can have a population 15% higher than the city-wide average. As it stands right now, a couple wards have grown 30-45% above the average number. On top of which, the current wards and governance structure have been in place since 2000. So a review is overdue.
The process is already underway, with background research beginning last summer. Public consultations start in early December. Final recommendations will go to city council sometime in the first part of 2016.
Why is this so important?
For starters, we should try our best in a democracy to make sure everyone is represented equally. As it stands right now (or, at least, as of the 2011 census), Ward 23 Willowdale is home to over 88,000 people. That’s almost double the nearly 45,000 people living in Ward 18 Davenport. Such a glaring discrepancy must affect the relative performance of the respective councillors in those wards to the detriment of residents living in the more heavily populated ward.
Councillor Lindsay Luby is bang on dismissing the nonsense demand to use this review to cut the council number in half. How does it serve anybody to tilt things in the direction of less representation, putting a greater burden on city councillors? It guarantees more of a top down democracy and creates an even greater distance between residents and their local representatives. The city has grown by some 700,000 people since amalgamation. That’s more than 3 Windsors. Having fewer councillors simply waters down local democracy.
In a more abstract vein, given the entrenched parochial sensibilities that have so strongly emerged the past 4 years (Scarborough Deserves A Subway!), it might do us a whole lot of good to look hard at the geographical component of the boundary review. Will it be possible to disrupt the politically exploitable divisions that are based on little more than what are former municipalities? While it would be fun to try, obviously you can’t take a knife and extract, say, Ward 38 and plunk it down on the Mimico lakeshore but is there a way we can shape wards based on current realities rather than previous history? That’s a genuine question. I don’t have an answer but I think it’s worth exploring.
Since 2000 Toronto’s wards have been aligned with federal and provincial riding boundaries, 22 cut in half to make 44. Lindsay Luby suggests that this is ‘less confusing for the electorate’. On that point, I’d differ with the councillor. I think, in fact, it adds an added layer of confusion for the electorate. During this recent municipal campaign, I talked to numerous candidates, and heard it myself at the few doors I knocked on, voters wanting to know what candidate X was going to do about healthcare or the grade 7 curriculum or to stop that damned Stephen Harper. None of which a municipal politician has much of a hand in dealing with.
Such an easy overlap of jurisdictional boundaries can’t help but contribute to an easy confusion in the minds of voters. It’s a situation that might’ve been exacerbated during this term since the 2010 municipal election we had one federal and two provincial general elections and a host of by-elections throughout the city. Still, I don’t see how aligning local wards with the ridings of the other two levels of government at all helps clarify the roles each play in the lives of the city’s residents.
More cynically, I’d suggest such a configuration only really serves the purposes of the political parties operating at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa. It makes for easy compiling of voters’ lists and helps them in establishing ground games and footholds in areas of the city they’re looking to take runs at during their own election campaign. It encourages backroom party involvement in municipal elections for reasons not always beneficial for the city but very much in the interests of the parties.
What we need from this ward boundary review is a made in Toronto, for Toronto solution. The city needs to establish new political turf (if not an entirely new governance model), free from past grievances and fiefdoms, free from outside interference. Given the fact that we may have a new voting system in 2018, ranked ballots, if both the province and new council push it through, this is an ideal time to attempt to completely remake the city’s political landscape. The future starts next month.
Have your say. Help redraw the lines. The opportunity to take control of local democracy here in Toronto is soon upon us.
— hopefully submitted by Cityslikr