Almost three years ago, City Council hired consultants to study and re-draw the city’s 44 municipal boundaries. Some wards have over 90,000 residents, while others have as few as 47,000.
Our ward, Ward 26, is somewhere in the middle with just over 60,000. The consultants submitted their report in mid-August last year, offering five design options.
None of them look good from a Leaside perspective.
Proposed changes range from reducing the current number of 44 wards to 38 large wards of about 75,000 residents each, to increasing the number of wards to 50 smaller ones, with about 50,000 residents each.
Four of the five options offered for consideration to City Council would split Leaside into two parts, with North Leaside in one ward and South Leaside in another.
This means that, for any local matter, Leasiders would have to deal with two councillors, and possibly two separate community councils. The fifth option keeps Leaside together, but attaches us to Lawrence Park, which has its own distinct priorities, and detaches us from Bennington Heights.
Our present ward boundaries were set by the city, dividing electoral districts drawn by a boundaries commission for Elections Canada. My son, commission secretary of the 2002 federal boundaries commission, tells me that their instructions stressed maintaining, not dividing, “communities of interest,” even if population numbers were unbalanced.
Voter parity (equal numbers of voters in each ward) should not be the only – or even the most important – consideration. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that other factors such as geography, community interests, community history, and minority representation justify variation in district sizes, in order to provide “effective representation”.
Why is this report bad news for Leaside?
The consultants ignore Leaside’s historical, geographic, and social connections. Their report, regarding “communities of interest,” refers to the Annex, Malvern, Mount Dennis, Chinatown, St. Lawrence and Little Italy (but not Leaside), even asserting that “there is no comprehensive list or map of Toronto’s communities of interest or neighbourhoods with precise boundaries.”
Residents will recall from Leaside’s centenary celebrations in 2013 that Leaside has been a distinct and planned community, with its own mayor and council, for over 100 years, with maps to prove it.
The LPOA wrote to Councillor Burnside back in September, after the report was released, to express our strong opposition.
Dividing a cohesive community like Leaside into two wards with two separate councillors would double the work of individuals and ratepayer groups trying to defend neighbourhood priorities and identity. Development applications, traffic planning, Committee of Adjustment and Ontario Municipal Board hearings all become more complicated.
If protecting Leaside’s character and streetscape is difficult now, imagine how much more so it would be, under any of the five proposed scenarios.
Even the single proposed option which wouldn’t split Leaside – the fewer but larger wards option – would place us into a much larger ward. The result: more issues for councillors to handle, heavier agendas and less time for constituents.
Councillors would require more staff to cope with their increased workload. So up would go costs, and down would go accountability.
Do you call this good government?
There wasn’t a public outcry when the report was released in the middle of August.
For one thing, the middle of August is when many Torontonians are away. For another, most major press coverage portrayed the topic as “fewer wards = fewer councillors = save money” and “more wards = more councillors = cost more”.
Little was said about the impact on local democracy.
The LPOA is on record as opposing limiting choices to the five options in the consultants’ report. This issue will affect Leaside’s future, and the future of a number of other established neighbourhoods.
We will be contacting other ratepayer groups across the city with a view to forming a united front before it is debated at City Council later this spring.
And we need to hear from YOU, with your comments. So do Councilor Burnside, and Mayor Tory.
Yes, representation by population is important. But dividing communities, and making it harder for them to retain their identities or protect their priorities, is not good government.
The LPOA board meets at 7:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month, at the Trace Manes building on Rumsey Rd., by Leaside Library and the tennis courts. These meetings are open to the public. We encourage you to attend, with questions, or issues you’d like advice on, or just to listen in. Our next meeting is on Wednesday, March 2.