Near the end of the last public session I attended of the first round of the city’s Ward Boundary Review earlier this year (Got that?), a young man (I’m old enough to use that term in a non-pejorative way) raised his hand to ask a question. Will any of this really affect my life? More or less. I’d have to dig back in my archives to get the exact quote but it’s Monday, I don’t much want to. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.
It was a perfectly valid question. Of all the things we’re facing living in Toronto at this moment in history, are proposed changes to ward boundaries, the possible number to them, the number of city councillors we elect to represent us, all that important? Will it really affect the transit we build or the police budget we agree to? The wonk in me would immediately say Yes, yes, in fact, it would. But, that’s just the wonk in me.
Judging by the turnout for the 2nd round of public consultations over the course of this fall, I’d have to say most people resoundingly came down on the No side of the equation. How many wards we have, how they’re drawn up will have no effect on their respective lives. At least, nothing big enough to compel them out to participate in person.
This time around, I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but from the 4 meetings I attended, anecdotally I’d guess fewer people attended than previously, we were caught up in the prolonged federal election, the Blue Jays were in the middle of their amazing run. The weather was unseasonably warm! Who wants to spend time indoors, talking ward realignment, while the sun’s shining brightly and the temperature makes no socks demand on you?
I guess what I found unfortunate about our collective shrug at the process so far is that the city and the consultants it hired to conduct the public meetings, to write the reports, to make recommendations did their level best to engage with Torontonians. They listened intently to the feedback they received, incorporating it their report and recommendations. Their report after the 1st round of public sessions was highly readable, clear and precise. It cannot be claimed, as I heard from more than a few people after that report was issued, that the public had been kept in the dark. There was (and remains to be) plenty of opportunity for everyone to have their say.
Without broader public input, the ultimate decision makers on this, city council itself, will, not at all incorrectly, see a certain apathy on the matter and ultimately put its interests first, with only a possible Ontario Municipal Board appeal looking over its shoulders. The loudest voices will be the only ones heard, and those, from what I witnessed at the meetings, are largely older and white. Not exactly agents of change.
So I’m guessing when the 5 recommendations that are before the public during these 2nd round of consultations are winnowed done to just one early next year, it will be some variation of the minimal/no change options, either 44 or 47 wards. There seemed to be little appetite with the smaller, 58 wards options, mostly because that would mean more politicians. The bigger/fewer ward option also elicited very little support from the public at the meetings I attended.
The most intriguing option for me is the one that adheres to natural and physical boundaries. It received very little attention until the last couple meetings I was at. The reason I like it is that it reconfigures the entire city, setting aside long established ward boundaries and the community council structure arbitrarily imposed on us with amalgamation. Although I think there are too few wards (41) and a number of them are geographically imposing, I like the idea of re-designing a post-amalgamated Toronto. That would positively affect our lives, to answer the young man’s question.
Well, there’s still time for you to have your say. Online input is available all this week until November 15th. From the comfort of your very own desk, you can study the options that are on the table and give your opinion of what you’d like to see happen, even to the smallest detail. You can’t fight City Hall or, in this case, reshape it, without letting your opinion be known. If you’re reading these words, there’s really no excuse for you not to.
— chidingly submitted by Cityslikr