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What’s in a ward?

Too many people, councillors say

UNDER REVIEW: Council is considering redrawing the ward boundaries due to uneven populations in the current wards. The map above shows one option favoured by city staff.

Faced with uneven population growth in its five wards, the City of Vaughan is poised to redraw the political map ahead of the 2010 municipal election.

Several options are on the table but just two enjoy city staff support: one maintains five wards, though altered, and the other would create a new ward.

The six-ward option, though, is likely dead on arrival, Ward 2 councillor Tony Carella says.

“At minimum, there needs to be a rejigging of the boundaries, that’s for sure,” Carella said Monday. “Whether going to six at this point, my general sense is not.

“If economic times were better, it might be a little more palatable. But we’ve got a tight budget and it’s coming up with the salary of a councillor, an assistant, plus discretionary expenses — I don’t think it’s a flier.”

According to a city staff report, adding a sixth ward councillor would cost between $150,000 and $200,000 a year in salaries, plus money to equip a new office and other expenses.

Ward 5 councillor Alan Shefman agrees there is little appetite to add the cost of a new councillor to the city’s budget, though not creating the new post would be a mistake.

“Adding a politician is always bad optics, whether it’s a recession or it’s a boom,” he said Tuesday. “There’s always people who criticize the fact that we’re creating a new politician and the costs associated with keeping that politician in office. But so be it.

“There’s a cost to democracy and the cost to democracy is to ensure people are well and properly represented, and sometimes that means you need to increase the number of representatives.”

The staff-supported five-ward option would essentially halve Ward 1 at Hwy. 400, creating a rough grid pattern with equal population in each ward.

As the ward system is currently set up, Ward 1 has the highest population with just under 80,000 residents and Ward 5 has the lowest with about 38,000. On average, each Vaughan ward councillor represents roughly 54,000 constituents.

By comparison, the average ward population in Markham is 33,000 and in Richmond Hill, it’s 27,000.

“Looking at all the other municipalities in the area, in the GTA, our ratios of elected representatives to citizens is very, very high,” Shefman said.

Carella agreed.

“It’s really a question of what level of service do people expect,” Carella said. “There’s only so many places you can be at a time, so many meetings you can go to.”

Shefman said he’d like the city to go to an eight-ward configuration, with the three regional councillors taking responsibility for a specific area of the city in addition to their regional duties. He admitted the idea would likely receive very little, if any, support.

“I think it’s a mistake not to go to six now, I think people should consider the creative idea of going to eight with a different approach and I think we’re going to end up having five.”

Any change in ward boundaries would also affect the election of school board trustees.

Council is set to vote on the matter on April 14.

Vaughan Today
In print: April 10, 2009, page 5
Online: April 11, 2009 [link]