City consultants say no to smaller council

The council chamber at Toronto City Hall. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun files)
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Toronto Council could be getting larger, cure despite public support for a smaller governing body, if a team of city-funded consultants has its way.

The consultants were tasked to lay out options to change the city’s ward structure to improve “effective representation” for residents. Their list of options, however, doesn’t even include the one most residents would support.

At every stop, in every neighbourhood, every time former mayor Rob Ford talked about reducing the size of Toronto Council from “44 to 22,” everyone applauded. It was a campaign promise that united voters from every walk of life in Toronto: cut the size of council.

Even today, it resonates on my Newstalk1010 radio show. Caller after caller guffawed Sunday when I told them a team of consultants will report tomorrow there is “no public support” for reducing the size of council.

Balderdash!

In an interim report last year, the consultants dismissed the idea of a much smaller council, saying it “gained virtually no support during the (study’s) public process (so) it has not been pursued as an option.” But, that’s not entirely true.

How do they know what the public supports?

Well, they didn’t spend any of their $800,000 fee on a statistically valid public research. Instead the consultants conducted two rounds of “civic engagement” receiving “input” from, at most, 1,700 self-selected people. This equates to about 6/100ths of 1% of Toronto’s population. Hardly a valid sample.

Even still, the consultants’ own report summarizes key findings from stakeholders’ input saying “an overwhelming majority of stakeholder responses suggest Toronto’s ward boundaries should follow those of the federal or provincial ridings.” Guess what? There are 22 (soon to be 25) provincial and 25 federal ridings in Toronto.

The study also argues a one-ward, one-riding system would have wards far too large to provide effective representation: up to 123,000 people in some wards — by 2026. And yet, our MPs and MPPs offer pretty good proof that representing 100,000 plus people isn’t impossible. They do it every day.

Effectiveness is not simply a function of how many people are being represented. It’s about having effective representatives, which means being able to hold your representatives accountable. This means knowing who your councillor is and making city governance more effective, not less.

Having common wards and riding boundaries with one MP, MPP and councillor each, would mean our elected officials could work more effectively together to address common local issues. It means citizens could more easily know who represents them at each level of government. And, it would produce a much more manageable city council. Imagine, a 25-member council would take half as long to debate its business. They might even listen to what their colleagues are saying.

Councillors argue against larger wards because they’re lazy. They say they won’t be able to provide quality service to their constituents if there are more of them.

The truth is, most of them provide lousy customer service now — it’s not about how many residents they represent, it’s about how they do their job. With a larger ward, they’d reasonably be granted a larger budget to hire more staff who do the real constituent work anyway.

Let the feds hire the expensive consultants to do population research. We should just mirror their boundaries as an “overwhelming majority” of Torontonians desire.

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Ward Boundaries

Since 2000, Toronto has been divided into 44 wards, each represented by 1 councillor. Each ward is roughly half of one of the former 22 federal ridings.

The city’s population has grown unevenly, leaving some wards with almost double the population of others.

The federal government recently adjusted its ridings so Toronto now has 25 ridings.

In 2014, Council hired a consulting team to review ward boundaries. They will present their recommendations at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

The study team held two rounds of “consultations” in-cluding public meetings and online surveys.

They received input from up to 1,700 people. This represents just 6/100ths of 1% of the city’s population.

An “overwhelming majority” of stake-holders consulted felt the wards should remain aligned with the federal (and provincial) ridings.

Despite this, the study team dismissed the option of having 22 or 25 wards as having “virtually no public support.” Instead they’ve considered 5 options, each with one councillor per ward:

  • 47 wards: Average ward population: 61,000.
  • 44 wards: No change to number of wards/councillors but with different boundaries so average population is 70,000.
  • 58 wards: Smaller wards with average population of 50,000.
  • 38 wards: Larger wards with average population of 75,000.
  • 41 wards: Strict alignment with natural/physical boundaries (rivers, roads, railways, etc.) with an average population of 70,000.

The report will go to Executive Committee May 24. Mayor John Tory has said he will not support an increase in the number of city councillors.

— Originally published in the Toronto Sun May 16, 2016.