Last week Toronto City Council voted against asking the province to allow for the use of Ranked Ballots (a decidedly less than positive vote for fair democratic representation). There is however good news on the fair representation front, with a second round of consultation taking place with the public for the Toronto Ward Boundary Review (TWBR).
The TWBR looks at the 44 wards that make up today's Toronto City Council with a view to redistributing the wards to allow for fairer representation; with a final decision to be made by May 2016.
The TWBR team has put together a comprehensive document for review, which includes considering components of ‘effective representation’ and five potential options. The document brings a lot of value to the discussion but also raises some points for further consideration and this is what I will address in this the first of many new blog posts. My comments here are both from a general standpoint looking across the city and also in particular to the redrawing of boundaries that contain the St. Lawrence neighbourhood (currently part of Ward 28).
The report outlines 7 important components of effective representation: Voter Parity, Natural / Physical boundaries, Geographic communities of interest, Ward History, Capacity to represent, Geographic size and shape, and Population growth.
In a final report, I believe it is important to prioritize these components, as some are clearly more important than others. This prioritization also leads to a better understanding of which of the proposed options is the most suitable. I have particular concern over the inclusion of ‘Ward History’. What is right for the future should never be beholden to what was decided in the past. There is no doubt that Ward History has had an effect on how the city has evolved, but surely when this is the case, then these areas have evolved into ‘communities of interest’. If there is no common bond beyond the fact that it is a historical ward boundary, then this cannot be an argument for maintaining the status quo.
Collaboration between levels of Government
The authors of the document make clear that there was a great deal of support to align ward boundaries with those of the federal and provincial ridings. This support follows previous alignments where two city wards made up one federal riding (as per 1999) meaning today there would need to be 50 new wards (considering the new federal boundaries which are also likely to be adopted provincially at this stage). A review was done of the new federal ridings and a conclusion drawn that they did not meet the requirements to satisfy enough of the components of effective representation.
I have no doubt that the review of the Federal ridings does not meet the effective representation criteria and these options should be excluded, but this is where I believe there is an oversight. The need and value of having Ward boundaries align particularly with provincial riding boundaries but also federal ridings is extremely valuable. In its simplest form, even the confusion amongst the public for this federal election demonstrates the issues with boundaries that are not aligned. More importantly, the ability for a direct relation between ones Federal MP, Provincial MPP and Ward councilor allows for all three levels of government to more transparently and collaboratively work together. So the issue here is not that the new federal ridings do not provide a valid option; it is that ‘Federal/Provincial/ City alignment’ is a necessary component of providing ‘effective representation’.
When we include this new component in effective representation, we can still rule out the current federal / provincial options as a valid option, but what it allows, is for the city to be at the forefront of shaping the future and creating new ward boundaries that not only make sense at the city level but could also make sense in the future at the Provincial and Federal levels. While this would mean another ten years before alignment would be achieved with the Federal ridings, it is a step in the right direction; and action now could signal to the provincial government to align ridings with the new wards immediately. This would be the city showing leadership on this particular file and I believe is the right thing to do.
As Toronto is allotted 25 new federal MPs, creating 50 wards would not only be the first step in this alignment, but it would be a sensible middle ground between the extremes of 58 small wards (Option 3) and 38 large wards (Option 4) as proposed. It would keep the number of residents per councilor to a manageable level up from 61,00 per ward today to approximately 66,000 and would require only adding 6 more councilors. Close enough to the status quo to be more acceptable to today’s council.
The St. Lawrence Neighbourhood
During the Federal redistribution, a last minute change caused the St. Lawrence neighbourhood to be split in two. This is a change that had few if any proponents. In the initial round of the TWBR it was suggested that a major goal was to avoid similar issues, taking particular account of ‘communities of interest’.
While some of the options seem to take this into account, several of the options are very unsuitable for the St. Lawrence neighbourhood area.
Option 2 – 44 Wards
This option splits the St. Lawrence neighbourhood in half east/west with Jarvis Street as the boundary. There is no reasonable account of respecting communities of interest that warrants this drawing of the boundary. As a general rule, in the heart of downtown East/West Yonge street provides the obvious boundary (or at least within the York/University to Yonge corridor).
Option 5 – Natural / Physical Boundaries
It is perplexing that an option that is designed to follow major physical boundaries follows the railroad into the city from the east up until the Don Valley Parkway and then suddenly fails to continue this obvious border (which at this point is further emphasized by the addition in parallel of the Gardiner Expressway). Instead the option now jumps north to follow Front Street (admittedly this was a boundary in the 19th Century), again causing a complete split of the St. Lawrence neighbourhood. Ironically this is one major block north of the Federal riding boundary (which is the Esplanade) meaning an even more eclectic combination of boundaries in the area.
It should also be noted that in this scenario the entire downtown core of the Waterfront is represented by one ward (W519). When one thinks of the many issues around the waterfront, for example, development, the islands, and the airport, it does not seem that this meets the component of ‘capacity to represent’ under effective representation.
This is a new blog that I am just launching, there will be many more blog posts to come. These are my thoughts in relation to the current options presented by the TWBR; I would welcome hearing from you in regard to your comments, feedback and further ideas.