City starts redrawing electoral map
Mayor believes 23 wards still the magic number for Ottawa
The City of Ottawa has started redrawing its ward boundaries for the first time since 2005, with the aim of redistributing the electorate in time for the next municipal vote.
Because the map hasn't been recalibrated for so long, councillors whose ward populations have exploded in recent years can face a much greater workload than others. In Barrhaven, for example, Coun. Jan Harder represents nearly 62,000 residents, a population 43 per cent larger than the current average of 43,106.
It's really hard to start lumping all three of those rural wards together. Rural folks would lose a voice.- Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson
Rural wards, on the other hand, tend to have much smaller populations, though they cover vast areas. Coun. Eli El-Chantiry's West Carleton-March ward had 25,644 residents in 2018, 40 per cent fewer than the city-wide average.
According to a report from city staff, ward populations should differ from the average by no more or less than 25 per cent in order for residents to be properly represented.
Failing to redraw the boundaries by 2022 could leave the city vulnerable to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, which can take away council's control over its own size.
Watson wants to keep council as is
There are currently 23 seats around the Ottawa city council table, plus the mayor's.
Mayor Jim Watson says he believes that's still the right number, even though he campaigned in 2010 on shrinking council by about one-third.
"I've recognized over the years that we do have a special situation with the large geographic mass that rural Ottawa makes up, and it's really hard to start lumping all three of those rural wards together. Rural folks would lose a voice," he told reporters Monday.
The Ontario government has ultimate authority to decide a council's size, as Toronto experienced recently.
That city's council last term approved increasing the number of seats from 44 to 47, only to have the province slash it down to 25 wards just before the 2018 municipal election.
For that reason, staff are recommending Ottawa city council advise Premier Doug Ford and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark of its decisions on ward boundaries and council size, and seek their feedback "out of an abundance of caution".
Watson hopes that way, the province will alert Ottawa of any plans to impose boundaries, as they did in Toronto.
"If we get that commitment, it will give us a little bit more freedom to go and re-tweak the boundaries so there's more equity between the fast-growing areas and the smaller wards," Watson said.
Council is expected to seek an independent consultant to do the boundary review, the results of which are expected by mid-2020.
Any newly drawn boundaries would likely hold up right through to the 2030 municipal election.