OMB to review council size decision
The story isn’t over yet. After more than eight years of debate, surveys, meetings, a Citizen’s Assembly and electoral ballot, many believed the size of council matter might have been settled by now. Not quite. With four days remaining to the March 11 deadline, Athol resident Pierre Klein filed an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) on Tuesday.
In late October, Klein presented a plan to divide the County into 10 electoral wards— as per the recommendation of the Citizens’ Assembly in 2013. His plan was based on the principles of electoral districts as defined by the Supreme Court in the Carter decision of 1991.
But council wouldn’t listen to his presentation. It came too late, they said.
Klein countered that he had hoped and expected council would, through its own deliberations, land upon a plan that respected the law, history and equity that guides the realignment of electoral boundaries. He said none of the proposals presented to the public met these basic tests.
“I did a serious review of all four plans,” said Klein before council last fall. “But all four are flawed—three violate the Charter of Rights; the fourth contravenes the principle of community of interest. If I could have picked one, I wouldn’t be here.”
So Klein developed one on his own. Using the County’s geographical information database, he created a 10-ward arrangement, each with about 2,500 residents.
Still, council declined to consider his plan.
Instead, it chose to remain with the existing arrangement—the least popular choice among respondents to a survey conducted by Shire Hall last year. But as the date approached to finalize its decision, council opted for the safer route offered by John Thompson’s Plan 9 (the second least favourite choice according to survey respondents).
This plan would drop one councillor from Sophiasburgh and eliminate the Bloomfield ward—amalgamating the village with Hallowell. It was a small change—but perhaps enough to keep an OMB panel from prying into County decision-making on this file.
In its haste to see the matter put behind them, however, Council decided to override provisions that would have staff and council review the Thompson plan. The plan Council adopted was never formally evaluated against criteria produced by staff.
Mayor Robert Quaiff had urged his colleagues to complete the process—but to no avail.
When asked about whether or not Council had completed the process prescribed by County staff, Chief Administrative Officer James Hepburn acknowledged that it had not.
“Not fully,” said Hepburn.
Thompson’s plan 9 was adopted and later affirmed by council.
Klein contends that any reorganization of electoral wards must respect the principles enunciated in the Carter decision. These governing principles include the following tenets: representation by population; parity; community of interests; effective representation; Charter of Rights and Freedoms; social and physical geography; utilization of natural and physical boundaries; and historical and social context.
An OMB panel adjudicated the issue of the County’s council size once before. In 2009, the OMB ruled that the matter had been brought to table prematurely and that the appellants, Lyle McBurney and Jim McPherson, had failed to provide evidence that the County’s existing ward structure, though wildly askew from a voter parity standpoint, was not effective representation. The adjudicator was satisfied then, that Council was, in good faith, seeking public opinion by way of an electoral ballot and that a public process would follow.
Despite the fact that 81 per cent of those who answered the ballot wanted a review,it would take another four years before one was embarked upon.
No date has been set for the OMB hearing.