County News, Size of Council

Principled plan

Posted: October 23, 2015 at 9:08 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Council refuses to discuss proposal because it came too late

Pierre Klein wasn’t happy with any of the options presented at a size-ofcouncil public meeting he attended in Cherry Valley last month. He believes each of them violates a fundamental principle of the law, history and equity that define electoral boundary making in this country.

So he developed his own proposal—one that aligns neatly with each of these principles.

It is a good, solid proposal. Perhaps the best the County has seen in this long debate. But council won’t consider it. It has come too late, according to council. They won’t even talk about it.

Instead, council is set to deliberate on the findings of nine poorly attended public meetings, a poorly understood survey and their own conscience on Thursday, October 29. It will do so knowing that another plan now exists—one that achieves what its own proposals fail to do. Council knows, too, that whatever decision it makes may be appealed, and that objective adjudicators will rely on these principles much more than they have done.

“I had a level of confidence that the proposals presented by council would adhere to these principles,” said Klein. “I did a serious review of all four plans. But all four are flawed—three violate the Charter of Rights; the fourth contravenes the principle community of interest. If I could have picked one, I wouldn’t be here.”

The governing principles he cites include 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.

So he sat down with the municipality’s geographic information system maps and came up with his own plan. It consists of 10 electoral districts with one councillor per ward.

In 2013, the County engaged in a Citizens’ Assembly to examine the issue and make a recommendation. The randomly selected group met for three Saturdays and concluded that council should be reduced from 15 to 10 councillors.

An earlier council rejected that recommendation. Only one of four proposals tabled for community discussion—Mayor Quaiff’s plan—retains this recommendation and it has been criticized for dividing the County into two halves.

Klein began with the Citizens’ Assembly recommendation. Then he delved into the County mapping system to identify communities of interest—with each adding up to about 2,500 people, give or take less than 10 per cent.

In rough terms, the resulting configuration proposes to split Ameliasburgh into two electoral wards, East and West, divided by County Road 23. Hillier would join Hallowell over to Highway 62. Wellington would expand a bit. Bloomfield would join Athol. Sophiasburgh would extend to Highway 62 and the Marysburghs would become one electoral district. Picton would be divided into three districts West, North and East. None of the wards varies more than 500 residents from the average of 2,526. By contrast, Bloomfield currently enjoys one seat around the council table despite having only about a third of the population of Wellington, also with one seat.

You can view Klein’s plan and proposed electoral district map by clicking here.

Council members didn’t know what to do with Klein’s proposal. Several complained that it had come late in the process—why hadn’t he responded to earlier requests for proposals.

“I know I am late,” said Klein. “But I believed council would present an option that actually adhered to the principles that govern electoral boundaries. If one of the options actually met the tests for such decisions, I would not have come forward and would have had to support that option.”

Councillor Bill Roberts was among those uncertain what to make of Klein’s submission.

“I don’t know how we would insert this into the process,” Roberts told the presenter. He asked Klein if it was his intention to appeal council’s eventual decision to the Ontario Muncipal Board (OMB).

Klein sidestepped a direct answer.

“I expect this will go to the OMB,” said Klein. “And the OMB will see all the options. This plan would give the OMB one option that aligns with each of the important principles.”

Councillor Lenny Epstein was just as perplexed about how to proceed with Klein’s novel approach.

But Councillor Jamie Forrester knew what to tell him. Forrester is chair of the committee meeting this month, and the Athol representative was astonished to see some members were giving Klein’s proposal some thought, this late in the process.

“Are we proposing to scrap the process?” insisted Forrester. “I want it clear that if we entertain this plan, we are starting over.”

The clerk confirmed for Forrester that indeed consideration of Klein’s plan would mean rewinding the public process.

Forrester had what he needed.

“Having heard this, does anybody need any more questions answered?” challenged Forrester.

He called the vote and the discussion ended.