Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto ward boundaries need to be redrawn

Toronto Mayor John Tory looks over the council chamber during council meeting at Toronto City Hall on Wednesday, June 10, 2015.
Toronto Mayor John Tory looks over the council chamber during council meeting at Toronto City Hall on Wednesday, June 10, 2015.

In what was very exciting news for fans of municipal geography, the Toronto Ward Boundary Review group released its second major report last week.

Based on extensive consultation and study, the report presents five options for redrawing Toronto’s ward boundaries.

This is important. Trust me.

It’s overdue. As it stands, Toronto’s 44 wards — each of which elects a city councillor — are grossly imbalanced. Ward 23 in Willowdale, the most crowded ward with an estimated 2014 population of 93,784, has twice as many people as least-populous Ward 18 in Davenport.

If the ward boundaries aren’t changed, the imbalance will grow worse.
Toronto is a growing city, but it’s not growing everywhere. Certain areas — generally downtownish urban areas with lots of condos — are set to swell in population.

Meanwhile, stable residential neighbourhoods will mostly see the population decline, as homes that once housed large families are gobbled up by childless yuppies with dreams of converting bedrooms into artisanal yoga lounges.

This has significant ramifications. Because every councillor is allotted one vote at council — regardless of ward size — population imbalance means city issues that mostly affect dense urban areas will be increasingly decided by politicians who represent predominantly suburban areas.

There’s also a question of accessibility. People need to be able to call on their councillors to serve as advocates when dealing with problems. As ward populations grow, councillors will invariably find it harder to be responsive.

These are important concerns. But, unfortunately, the issue has so far been ground down to an overly simplistic premise. Because three of the five options presented in the report suggest increasing the number of wards, the debate has been framed as a question of whether Toronto really needs more politicians.

“The last thing we need is more politicians,” declared Mayor John Tory in a statement soon after the report was unveiled.

Rob Ford — a little-known councillor from Etobicoke — also spoke out against the idea.
“Right now, we’re dysfunctional. You see council meetings going on with 44 people,” he told Metro in an interview. “The fewer the councillors the better. That’s all we hope for.”
I don’t agree.

Sure, council is often pretty dysfunctional, but that’s a function of its structure, not its size. There are a bunch of structural reforms worth discussing — things like delegating more issues to local community councils, or setting stricter limits on council debate — but those should be discussed separately from this process of ward boundaries.
It’s far too simplistic to suggest council can be fixed by maintaining or reducing the number of councillors. Real reform isn’t that easy.

Toronto’s ward boundary process should be decided purely on the basis of equity and responsiveness. Size doesn’t matter.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt

This post was originally published at on 2015-08-17T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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