Growing Downtown wards to get more councillors? Additional consultation on ward boundaries set for November

Eric Morse –

The last Federal electoral redistribution ended up drawing riding boundaries right through the middle of some old and cherished central Toronto neighbourhoods, including the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood, Corktown, the Distillery District and Bloor St. E., and residents are anxious to see that it doesn’t happen again at city level.

On Jan. 10, representatives of several major neighbourhood associations turned out to register their views at a public meeting convened by the Toronto Ward Boundary Review (TWBR).

In late 2013, city hall and the TWBR began the process of redrawing ward boundaries (last done in 2000 when the current 44-ward city council electoral structure was established).

The TWBR, composed of an independent team of consultants, is mandated to redraw existing boundaries, and recommend increase or decrease in the number of wards and councillors, subject to council’s recommendation.

In December and early January, a series of public consultations supplemented by an on-line survey (which ended Jan. 21) were held within the Toronto and East York Community Council area; the one closest to downtown took place at Trinity St Paul’s Church.

The current process was triggered by suits before the Ontario Municipal Board on the grounds that population shifts had led to massive disproportions in the number of voters being represented by any particular councillor. This incurs the possibility that, absent municipal action, the OMB might impose a redistribution without consultation. Changes are to come into effect for the municipal election in 2018.

The consultants explained the process and criteria: the boundaries to be recommended must try to achieve a relatively even population distribution across wards, based on best estimates of growth in any given district. The process must also make sure that boundaries among wards make sense based on: geographic communities of interest (e.g. specific ethno-cultural communities that live in the same area) and neighbourhoods, physical and natural boundaries (e.g. ravines, roads and railway tracks), the ward’s history and other relevant considerations. The review may recommend an increase in the number of wards.

The team noted in response to questions that the redrawing of boundaries is not in any way related to the federal redistribution exercise of 2014. Federal redistributions occur after each census, and take into account only the population numbers reflected in that census. They are therefore, as the project team noted, backward-looking whereas the city process tries to take future growth into account (for instance, the new federal riding boundaries have never yet been used in an election, but are already outstripped by the massive growth of the West Don Lands since 2011).

Provincial riding boundaries are yet a third kettle of fish. They customarily reflect federal districts but are not obligated to do so, and because of the 2014 provincial election, the Ontario legislature has not yet decided when or even whether it might adopt the new federal riding boundaries.

The review team hopes that their recommendations when finally adopted by council, probably by mid-2016, will see the city through several more elections, perhaps up to 2031, when projected population will reach 3.2 million.
The 2014 federal redistribution exercise caused anguish in Toronto Centre neighbourhoods by drawing riding boundaries through a couple of major neighbourhoods. The original proposal in 2013 would have split the Church-Wellesley Village between Toronto Centre and the new riding of University-Rosedale. Protests from Village residents led to a revision—which in turn left the southern riding boundary running straight along The Esplanade and Mill St., thus leaving St Lawrence Neighbourhood and the Distillery District incontinently cloven between Toronto Centre and the new riding of Spadina-Fort York.

“We need to make sure that as our ward grows, the population balances the growth in other wards, but that we retain the integrity of the ward,” said Dwight Peters of St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association (SLNA). Lester Brown of Gooderham and Worts Neighbourhood Association (GWNA) suggested that the number of Downtown councillors be increased to reflect the complexity of the core.

The south Downtown reps thought that the West Don Lands might suitably become the core of a new Downtown ward, and the view was expressed that the railway tracks would be a more appropriate east-west boundary for any future redistributions.

Some residents of Ward 20 expressed concern that the ward in its current shape had outgrown itself. Sue Dexter, who lives in the north end of the ward, thought that Queen St. might be an appropriate dividing line for redistribution given the building-out taking place to the south.

Next steps in the process include development of ward boundary options (by April 2015), a second round of community consultation (by November 2015), and submission of final report to council by May 2016.
For further information on the Boundary Review process, visit drawthelines.ca.

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