I have been pondering this question in observing the ward-review process that’s been underway in Brantford for almost a year.
This process has been hamstrung from its outset.
On Sept. 17 we witnessed the latest example of how when the review committee came before council to present its report recommending a revised five-ward system for the 2014 municipal elections. Every member of council who spoke — and keep in mind most if not all were interviewed one-on-one by the committee — had only critiques of the recommendations.
View Proposed Brantford ward boundaries in a larger map
Rather than simply toss away these recommendations as previous councils have done in the past, council should take a second (and third, and fourth, if necessary) look at the reports. Ask for the background material from the academic expert council forced upon the committee. Read through the committee’s minutes to gauge its discussions.
When councils strike ward-boundary review committees, they need to pay attention to the advice they’re receiving. An example can be seen in the experiences within the City of London prior to the 2006 municipal election.
In a nutshell, thanks to some archival searches, council of the day was a seven-ward system there with a board of control. It didn’t act on several opportunities to improve representation through changes to both the number of wards and their boundaries. Unsatisfied with the status quo, a group of citizens took council to the OMB and won. As of 2006 the city has had 14 wards with a single councillor per ward.
It’s incumbent on this council to set aside personal interest and the communities that have supported them and look at the city with an eye to equitable and effective representation that respects neighbourhoods and geographical features such as rivers, roadways and railways. The current reality clearly shows the status quo is unacceptable— representation is not equitable across the existing five wards and with the plans for development known to the city, the inequity is only going to increase.
To councillors’ complaints about the proposed wards having more constituents and greater workloads, well, that’s going to be the reality— one they could have mitigated by keeping the option of full-time councillors on the table and by expressing more support for a six-ward council. Some wards will be heavily weighted with older neighbourhoods or newer neighbourhoods. That’s the reality of this city’s growth patterns.
Given what they were saddled with and barring any reconsideration of the full-time question or a willingness to expand the size of council, the recommendations before council are good ones. It has an opportunity to make a good decision, locally, or give constituents a berth to ask the Ontario Municipal Board to make one.