Empty Chairs

December 5, 2014

Sitting in the largely empty ballroom at the Cedarbrooke Community Centre in Scarborough last night for the 1st public meeting of the Toronto ward boundary review, emptyrooma thought struck me. How can we expect and encourage civic engagement from the general public when it’s not much in evidence from those we elect to represent us at City Hall?

I know, I know. It’s December, the beginning of the holiday season. It’s the very first community consultation. It’ll take a bit for people to warm up to the process. It’s cold and dark out there.

But still.

There we were. I counted 6 non-official attendees, tucked away in the southeast corner of Ward 38, domain of the new deputy mayor of Scarborough, the mayor’s eyes and ears on the ground there, the Scarborough warrior, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker. He wasn’t there. missingIn fact, the only Scarborough councillor present, the only member of the Executive Committee which will be tasked in shaping the new ward boundary proposals for city council in 2016 was Councillor Paul Ainslie.

And yes, there will be 2 more meetings in Scarborough this week. We were told some councillors will be conducting their own meetings with constituents. They can’t be everywhere all the time. Stop being so demanding!

It’s just… we can hardly scold the folks for not showing much interest in matters of public concern when the local leadership goes MIA. Tracing a direct line between citizen disengagement and elected representative absenteeism is easy to do.

Not like there’s anything important at stake in this process. Simply the political reconfiguration of the city for the next 4 election cycles. Let’s call it the better part of the next couple decades. As it stands currently, resident numbers per ward are horribly out of whack. The presentation last night suggested that a 10% variation in population between wards is acceptable. puzzleFrom 10-25% is tolerable in some circumstances. Right now, we have one ward that has almost double the number of residents than the least populated ward in the city. With that, it’s difficult to pretend everybody’s vote carries the same weight.

There are other issues to consider when adjusting ward boundaries. Natural and physical boundaries like green spaces, highways and railroads. “Communities of interest”, as the consultants phrased it. Keeping neighbourhoods, heritage districts, ethno-cultural groups together with the same local representation.

All of this criteria considered together in an attempt to arrive at a sense of equal and `effective representation’ throughout the city. That’s a mushy, nebulous term, ‘effective representation’ that gives way to different interpretations depending on different expectations. For some keeping taxes low is the best form of effective representation. Others, it’s about delivering services in a way that builds stronger and fairer communities.

The process is also a moving target, projecting population growth 15 years down the road. projectionRight now estimates are for 600,000 new residents by 2031. That’s almost another entire new Scarborough of people moving within the city’s borders. And it won’t be evenly distributed either. Given the development underway and that in the proposal pipeline, downtown and midtown will see much of that growth, along with pockets in southern Etobicoke and Scarborough. This is all before factoring in not yet on the board plans like, say, SmartTrack. If it gets up and going in 7 years as the mayor has told us (I know, I know), how will it affect growth patterns?

So, you see what I’m saying that this just might be an important point in Toronto’s transformation?

We really don’t want to leave these decisions solely in the hands of the various vested interests. I’m not talking about just the councillors, some of whom may be looking at ways to ensure their political longevity through favourable ward re-alignment. opportunityknocksThere will be a push to keep the wards as closely in tune with both the federal and provincial ridings to avoid ‘voter confusion’, we’ve been told and to better help streamline services. As I wrote a couple weeks ago about this, I’d like to see the math on that assertion as the sceptic in me tends to think such overlap is simply more politically expedient for the respective parties in terms of amassing voters’ lists and other campaign efficiencies.

And of course, we should expect the full out push to take this opportunity to cut the council numbers in half for both the paltry (if any) financial gains and in some misguided belief that fewer councillors will bring more order to the proceedings. As if the rancour and tumult we’ve seen over the past 4 years is due only to having too many cooks in the governance kitchen as opposed to the result of simply the rancour and tumult going on throughout the entire city. If we just turn down the noise a bit, maybe it’ll seem more orderly.

So yeah, much is at stake through this ward boundary review, nothing less than how we’re governed in Toronto. We all need to start paying attention. drawthelines(Next public meeting, tomorrow at 9 a.m.) Leaving it to others to decide simply passes on the chance to help redefine this city, and begin dismantling parochial attitudes and micro-regional attachments that no longer reflect the current reality of this city. (I mean, really. Does Victoria Park Ave. represent anything other than a historical boundary these days?) Read up. Turn out. Chime in.

Maybe if you start making some noise, our city councillors might start to notice.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr


Reshaping Toronto’s Future

November 19, 2014

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.waiting4

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. review1As 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. reviewWill 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. haveyoursayIt’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. buildingblocksGiven 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