An ongoing process at city hall could re-shape wards across the city. Here's what that might look like.
Over the last year, the City of Toronto has been reviewing its ward boundaries, an overdue process that seeks to ensure relatively proportional council representation for city residents. Using population projections for the year 2026, the City wants to make ward populations as equal as possible, bringing them all within 10 per cent of the average while respecting local historical and geographic boundaries where feasible.
The consultants in charge of this process only have a mandate to look at the configuration and the number of wards, not the governance of council. As such, various reforms such as at-large council members, ranked balloting, or other fundamental changes to the way councillors are chosen are outside of this review’s scope.
With the release of the Toronto Ward Boundary Review report on August 11, there are some tangible options for new ward boundaries. But the big question that remains is: How many wards will there be?
In 1997, Torontonians elected 56 councillors to the new City of Toronto, which amalgamated by provincial fiat, electing two councillors per ward. (In 1998, a third councillor was elected to represent the ward that made up Borough of East York, as it was underrepresented.) But in 2000, the number of elected councillors was reduced to 44, with boundaries established by subdividing the 22 provincial constituencies; each ward would elect one representative.
Despite major population growth—growth that’s concentrated in only a few parts of the city—ward boundaries have not changed in 15 years. In fact, through a convoluted series of decisions, the ward boundaries are based on the 1991 census. Most of the population increases are in northeastern Scarborough, where the new subdivisions of Morningside Heights are located, as well as downtown, the Yonge Street corridor in North York, and central Etobicoke, where new high-rise residential towers have dramatically increased those wards’ populations.
As of the 2011 census, four wards had populations over 15 per cent above the city average; five had populations lower than 15 per cent below the city average. Provincial and federal riding boundaries changed in 2003 and 2014, but the city’s boundaries remained static. Councillors in high-growth areas, especially downtown and in North York Centre, must deal with dozens of development applications, creating an inequity not only in representation, but also in councillors’ workloads.
This difference in representation is now a serious problem and will only get worse by the 2018 election when the new boundaries come into place. This is why the ward boundary review, which is legally required, is overdue.
By 2018, when Torontonians will go to the polls to elect a new council, the inequities in ward populations will only increase further. Ward 27 will have a population that’s 74 per cent higher than the city average, while Wards 8, 9, 17, 18, 21, and 29 will have populations over 20 per cent smaller than the average. So while Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) will be busy representing 109,447 residents, overseeing dozens of public consultations, and responding to many downtown businesses, Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth) will only be representing 44,245 residents.
The newly-released report suggests five proposals, based upon various scenarios. The number of proposed wards range from 38 (in option 4, which proposes ward populations of about 75,000, up from the current average of 61,000) to 58 (in option 3, which proposes ward populations of about 50,000). Ward boundaries, as much as possible, seek to be compact, reflective of natural and man-made barriers such as waterways and freeways, and as equal as possible.
While there was considerable support at early public consultations for using the new federal electoral districts (and subdividing them by two, to create 50 wards), the consultants rejected that option. The new ward boundaries are expected to last at least a decade; by 2026, the variance in population between wards utilizing that option would again be problematic.
These five options are, at this point, still works in progress; there are many opportunities to comment on the review. A survey is now open, and public consultations are scheduled for September and October in venues across the city.