John Tory Loves Ward Boundary Status Quo
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John Tory Loves Ward Boundary Status Quo

Status quo is actually from 1991.

Photo by Bruce K from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Photo by Bruce K from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

John Tory often touts how he reads studies and evaluates expert staff recommendations. The rhetoric goes that this approach separates him from his predecessor, who was more interested in his personal preferences than facts and evidence.

The mayor does not always live up to this standard. Case in point: Toronto’s much-needed ward boundary review, which the mayor wants to delay so that staff deliver a recommendation that he is willing to hear.

Map of the staff ward boundary recommendations above, by Sean Marshall. The new map would add three downtown wards to compensate for its rapid growth, another ward in North York, and reduce one ward in the downtown west end, between existing wards 13, 14, and 17.

Re-drawing ward boundaries and adjusting representation is a messy necessity of political life. The city grows and populations shift, and it’s important to meet those changing needs. That means the population of each ward must be within a certain percentage of the average, geographic and historic neighbourhood boundaries should be respected when possible, and future growth is worked into the equation (as we’ll live with these wards for a while). The core goal of electoral boundary reviews is to achieve effective political representation.

Failing to meet the legislated requirements means that the city’s representation becomes unbalanced (which it currently is), and that it could be susceptible to a legal challenge if it doesn’t change its boundaries to meet the criteria in time to be implemented for the 2018 election (a process that takes a while to operationalize).

Toronto last altered its ward boundaries in 2000, but this actually overstates the relevance of Toronto’s current wards. As John McGrath wrote in OpenFile in 2010, due to an arcane series of decisions, Toronto’s existing ward boundaries are based on the 1991 census data. And what happens when your underlying data comes from a time that Brian Mulroney was popular is that John Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale) represents almost twice as many constituents as Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth).

Toronto has grown by about 400,000 since 2000, so it would be reasonable to study options and come up with more equitable representation in the next election and beyond. The City did this with its extensive Draw the Lines consultation and report, which started in 2013. Members of the public in all parts of Toronto had opportunities to give feedback on priorities and preferences. City councillors even filled out a survey to indicate what they wanted to see.

But when it comes time to adopt even the most incremental change–City staff recommended three wards should be formed on top of the existing 44–the mayor balked. The reason isn’t because of any flaw in the staff methodology or a failure to consult. It’s because the mayor really wants the status quo.

Tory said he’s “not in favour of adding politicians here.” He wants to delay the Council vote on the issue until November. At that time, if there are further appeals, the City is at risk of not meeting its 2018 deadline. The mayor has asked for 44 councillors–an option City staff studied but did not recommend–or maybe 46, but not 47. Tory adds the he prefers more extensive staff resources for wards that need it.

This would be a solution if those staffers could vote on the floor of Council and represent their own constituents, but they can’t. Voters don’t elect staffers to represent and speak on behalf of their community—they elect politicians.

To Tory “politician” seems to be a dirty word, although, you know, he is one. Perhaps it’s because some politicians, despite years of staff work, extensive community consultations, and a possible OMB appeal, see fit to enact personal preferences at the last minute and dismiss everything that went into the decisions. It is easy to say that we don’t want more people like that.

Or when politicians come at issues like the Gardiner or policing costs or the budget with a pre-determined outcome, it’s easy to lose faith in the political process that made it happen.

But that’s a problem with how individual politicians do their job, not the job itself. Effective representation demands more.