The new boundaries would give a greater voice to downtown residents at City Hall.
Despite major population growth, concentrated in only a few parts of the city, Toronto’s ward boundaries have not changed since 2000, when the number of city councillors was chopped from 56 to 44. Sixteen year later, councillors in downtown Toronto and central North York are overworked. Not only must they represent a disproportionately larger population, they must keep track of numerous building applications, support more local business improvement areas, and work through great neighbourhood change. Wards 20, 23, 27, and 42 are the most underrepresented at City Hall; Ward 42 includes the new Morningside Heights neighbourhood, while condominium construction have swollen the number of residents in Wards 20, 23, and 27.
Consultants retained by the City of Toronto have been tasked with reviewing the size and shape of Toronto’s wards, and providing a recommendation for new ward boundaries that will take effect in time for the 2018 municipal election. Back in August 2015, the Toronto Ward Boundary Review Options Report was released. This month, after consultations at public meetings and with sitting councillors, the consultants are recommending 47 wards, up from the current 44. The final report’s recommendation, released on May 16, is similar to the “Minimal Change” option in last August’s report, but there have been some minor tweaks to the ward boundaries. Each new ward will have an average population of 61,000, with a range between 51,800 and 72,000 (+/- 15%).
The report will be considered on May 24 by the Executive Committee, which will vote on a recommendation to take to City Council on June 7. If it passes the Executive Committee and Council, the City Solicitor will then submit the bill designating the wards in the fall of 2016. This will give two years for aspiring Council candidates and City staff to prepare for the election on October 22, 2018. The new wards are designed to last for four election cycles, and will be re-drawn again in time for the 2034 election.
The recommendation brought forward is a compromise that improves representation in high-growth areas, while minimizing the loss of Council representation elsewhere. It also increases the number of councillors, but by a minimal number.
Had Toronto maintained the practice of having two wards per provincial/federal riding, there would be 50 councillors. Proposals to cut the number of representatives at City Council were not a very popular idea. In terms of staffing and associated costs, each councillor costs approximately $290,000; it would therefore cost about $870,000 to add three new wards.
With these new boundaries, there are some clear winners and losers. The downtown core, the area roughly made up of Wards 20, 27, and 28, will get three new councillors. So will central North York, which has seen a major building boom, especially along the Yonge Street corridor. Boundaries will shift elsewhere to better capture equal populations. However, Toronto’s west end will lose one seat—Wards 14, 17, and 18 are overrepresented at City Council, and these three wards roughly merge into two. Ward boundaries shift in Etobicoke and Scarborough, but both retain the same number of wards, with similar boundaries. Wards 1, 2, and 6 in Etobicoke retain the exact same boundaries. All but one incumbent councillor—possibly Cesar Palacio, Ana Bailão, or even Gord Perks, should they all decide to run in 2018—will easily find a new home with the recommended new boundaries without running against another incumbent, as what happened in several ward races in 2000.
With three new wards, downtown residents will have more of a voice at City Hall; right now, they are currently out-voted on matters affecting the city’s core, such as the decision to maintain the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, or whether to support local cycling infrastructure. It doesn’t help, either, that Mayor John Tory’s Executive and Public Works and Infrastructure Committees are dominated by suburban politicians.
While consultants attempted to recognize neighbourhood and historical ward boundaries, there are a few odd boundaries. For example, Regent Park is split into two separate wards at Dundas Street East, while the Entertainment District is split at John Street. Ward boundaries are now independent from the provincial and federal constituency boundaries. Interestingly, Wards 1, 2, 6, 10, and 11 are unaffected by the Ward Boundary Review.
The interactive map below illustrates the boundaries of the existing 44 wards (and includes the name of each councillor), and the new recommended 47 ward boundaries.