Shire Hall, Size of Council

The return of size of council

Posted: March 24, 2017 at 9:11 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

OMB hearing dates set for July

Just when you thought it was safe to step outside the County’s historical ward boundaries, the size of council issue has returned. Likely too late for the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to change the course for the next municipal election in 2018—but just in time to ruin some summer holidays.

The OMB has signalled that it will conduct hearings into an appeal of council’s decision made over a year ago, to reduce its number by two—folding Bloomfield ward into Hallowell, while Sophiasburgh would lose one of its two representatives.

Largely viewed as a do-the-least-possible manoeuvre— so as to avoid the decision being overturned by the OMB—it was, nevertheless, appealed to this independent panel.

Pierre Klein had come late to the decade-old debate. Late, even, to the most recent debate and deliberations in 2015. He had hoped, after all the time that had passed, informed by committee research and a Citizens’ Assembly, that the proposed restructuring of council would be scrutinized and rendered based on principles of effective representation, voter parity and coherent communities of interest. It wasn’t.

He was disappointed to see the last surviving proposal was guided not by time-tested principle, but by what council figured was the minimum change that would pass OMB’s scrutiny—and this only after it had concluded it didn’t want to make any change at all.

So Klein prepared his own proposal, consistent with the recommendation of the Citizen’s Assembly of 10 council members and faithful to eight principle’s he understands as fundamental to an fair electoral system. They are: representation by population, voter parity, community of interests, effective representation, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, social and physical geography, mindful of natural and physical boundaries as well as historical and social context.

He burrowed into the County’s geographic information system to define 10 wards that met the criteria.

But when he presented his plan, council told him he was too late. They weren’t prepared to open the process again. After a couple of false starts, the bylaw was eventually passed in February 2016, reducing the size of council to 13 from 15.

But in its haste to put this issue behind them, council failed to fully evaluate their plan against a list of criteria its staff had prepared. It was a lens through which reworking electoral boundaries and size of council ought to have considered. It may turn out to have been a major oversight.

Another big headache for council is that it put the question of the size of council on the ballot in the 2010 municipal. Eighty-one per cent of respondents voted for reform of council. The meaning and significance of that vote has been much debated and the wording parsed to the point of comedy.

But it seems likely the OMB will look to this outcome as a measure of the community’s interest in restructuring the council.

Many folks are, fatigued by a debate that has lingered over council for more than a decade. How general weariness is weighed by the OMB is not at all clear.

Council has met with its legal advisors on this matter in closed session at least once this year. So far, there has been no indication of compromise.

Time is running out for any change resulting from the OMB hearing to have a bearing on the next election. All appeals, judgements and subsequent appeals must be completed by the end of 2017 in order to take effect in the October 2018 election.