What federal redistricting means for the City of Toronto.
Yesterday, the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission announced the new riding boundaries it is proposing, to accommodate population growth since the last census. Ontario is getting 15 new federal ridings; all but one are in the GTA, and two of them are in the city itself.
What, exactly, does this mean for Toronto?
When the amalgamated City of Toronto was first created in 1997, new municipal jurisdictions had to be decided on as well. After an initial start with 28 wards, inherited from Metro Council, this was done in 2000 by splitting up each federal riding, creating two municipal wards for each federal district. The idea, at its simplest, is that because councillors deal with much more fine-grained matters than their federal or provincial counterparts, we need more of them to adequately represent our interests and meet our needs. There were 22 ridings at that time—based on the 1991 census—so that meant 44 wards, and 44 councillors.
Since then, we have seen a great deal of immigration, conducted several new censuses, and gone through one federal redistricting, which created a new riding in the eastern part of the city: Pickering-Scarborough East. (This is why, if you live in Scarborough, your municipal-ward boundaries and federal-riding boundaries don’t line up: the wards are based on the 1991 census and the ridings on the 2001 census.) With this new proposed redistricting, we will add the ridings of North Toronto and Mount Pleasant as well, making for 25 federal ridings in all.
The question for the City of Toronto: does it want to follow suit, and redraw its own boundaries to yield 50 wards, and 50 councillors?
Our Current Predicament
Most councillors will readily admit that there are problems with the current ward boundaries in Toronto. Due to changes in population patterns, some wards now have significantly more residents than others—and that means councillors have significantly different workloads.
Before anyone cries out about downtown conspiracies and gerrymandering and how the latte-sipping elites clearly want to get their grubby hands on more political seats, two numbers to consider:
- Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth, has the lowest population of any ward: according to the 2006 census (the most recent for which ward profiles are available), it is 44,420
- Ward 23, Willowdale, has the highest of any ward: 79,435
A councillor’s workload isn’t a direct function of the number of residents he or she serves; many other factors come into play. Higher density creates additional work in many wards that have a smaller geographic footprint, for instance, and wards experiencing rapid increases in population (regardless of the raw numbers) generally have a great deal of new construction, planning, and zoning issues that need to be managed. But the number of residents is certainly a significant factor in determining just how much attention a councillor can devote to any single one of them—and right now Ward 23 has nearly twice the number of residents as Ward 29.
When it released its proposed new riding map, the federal commission explained that according to the Electoral Redistricting Act, “[t]he population of a district should remain within 25% of the average once consideration is given to communities of interest or identity, and historical and geographic factors”—basically, that no one riding should vary more than 25 per cent from the average riding population, as this creates imbalances that inhibit effective governance.
Though Toronto has the authority to draw its own ward boundaries, it is still supposed to stay under that 25 per cent threshold. Once a ward exceeds it, as several currently do, a petition signed by 500 voters can trigger an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board, which can then order the City to change its ward map [PDF].
In other words, Toronto is overdue for a redistricting of its own. Some on council—most notably the mayor, who included this in his campaign platform—want to take that opportunity not to increase the number of councillors but to decrease them dramatically, doing away with the two-wards-per-riding rule of thumb and having a one-to-one correspondence. If we wind up with 25 new federal ridings, that would mean 25 wards and 25 councillors, down from the current 44.
According to the City of Toronto, based on 2010 data, the average population per ward is 58,776. If we were to cut council roughly in half, that would mean more than 100,000 residents per councillor—and when residents call up those councillors when the trash doesn’t get picked up, that can sound like a scary number, both to councillors facing many demands and to residents who may already have a hard time gaining access to their elected officials. (There is also the undeniable fact that politicians are not prone to making decisions that would cut their odds of re-election in half.)
Torontonians have two opportunities to share their views on the federal redistricting proposal:
- North York Civic Centre: Wednesday, November 14, 2012, at 10 a.m.
- Metro Hall: Thursday, November 15, 2012, at 11:30 a.m.
Chances are, citizens will be asked to share their views on municipal redistricting not too long after that.
Willowdale/Don Valley/North Toronto
This area, roughly, is currently served by three ridings (Don Valley East, Don Valley West, and Willowdale). Under the new plan, it would be served by four (Don Valley East, Don Valley North, North Toronto, and Willowdale), to better distribute the growing population, especially in Willowdale.
Don Valley North
Don Valley East
The city’s other new riding, called Mount Pleasant, is created here, out of what is currently the northern end of Toronto Centre and the eastern portion of St. Paul’s.
Besides the two new ridings, Scarborough sees the most change. The current riding of Pickering-Scarborough East (which is partially in Toronto, partially outside it) is split, so the new set of Scarborough ridings stay entirely within the bounds of Toronto. Many significant boundary changes here.
Additional Boundary Shifts
Other ridings are slated for less significant changes to their borders.
Maps via the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission.