Ward Changes Should Be About Representation, Not Ideology
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Ward Changes Should Be About Representation, Not Ideology

What do opponents of the staff recommendations really mean when they say "the last thing we need is more politicians"?

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, add another ward in North York, and reduce one ward in the downtown west end, between existing wards 13, 14, and 17.

Call them self-hating or self-serving, but there’s a certain brand of politician that insists we don’t need more politicians for a growing city. These individuals mostly believe in smaller government, and they’ll blame perceived gridlock at City Hall on too much representation. If only we didn’t have so much democracy, decisions would be faster and better, the argument goes.

Mayor John Tory wouldn’t put it in quite those terms, but he supports the general notion. He has said on multiple occasions that the last thing City Hall needs is more politicians, as if he is above the fray of politicking or that politics is a dirty word. When an extensive study reported back in May that City Hall should increase from 44 to 47 councillors, the mayor rejected it out of hand and demanded that the expert analysis—over two years in the making!—go back and report on his preferred options.

Even though this undermines the evidence-based image the mayor prides himself on, the consultants studied it some more and recommended 47 councillors, again. This would achieve the most equitable representation and account for future growth—particularly in parts of North York and especially Toronto’s rapidly developing downtown core.

Councillors are the first point of contact for a wide range of local issues, from hearing complaints about dog parks and parking pads to rooming houses and community development consultations. That’s before we get to community functions, citywide transit debates, committee meetings, and more. It’s a lot of work, particularly in wards where there are many businesses and developments. For a city like Toronto, increasing the size of Council to ensure councillors can address these issues, and to safeguard representation by population, makes sense.

It doesn’t make sense to small-government ideologue and Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy, who trots out the Tory arguments against increasing the size of Council, notwithstanding expert recommendations and extensive community consultations. Council is too unwieldy as it is, and some don’t work hard enough, the argument goes. It would cost more money. And then she writes what Council opponents of increasing to 47 councillors won’t say, but it’s probably a factor in their decision:

But my real cost concerns relate to where those new wards will be located.

According to the final task force report of May 2016—and reiterated in the report to next week’s executive committee—the plan is to lose one ward west of downtown Toronto while adding one ward north of Hwy. 401 and another three wards in downtown Toronto.

Yes, downtown Toronto—home to gridlock-enhancing bike lanes, stiff parking and tree removal rules, pet projects, sweet lease deals for special interest groups, and NDP Councillors Pam McConnell, Joe Mihevc, Paula Fletcher, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Mike Layton and Joe Cressy who have shown they have little respect for taxpayers or for most of their constituents.

The last thing we need are three more limousine leftists or the NDP beefing up their ranks on council.

Ah, so the problem isn’t necessarily that there would be more wards, but who might represent those wards. Heaven forbid that ward boundary changes should reflect the growth of the city, regardless of political leanings.

If the issue is to see Council meetings move more quickly, then more authority could be delegated to community councils, and we wouldn’t have to go through the motions for tree removals and other minor issues. If the issue is about the cost of three more wards, then there should be ways to address less than $1 million on a $10 billion operating budget. If those are the governance issues at City Hall, then there are ways to address them outside of the ward boundary review.

But if the issue is about representation—and that’s what a ward boundary review should be about—then the evidence is in, and it recommends three more councillors. Unless, of course, it’s about who exactly is getting more representation, in which case the opposition isn’t about principles at all.