Toronto's redrawn ward map in limbo as councillors force review
Critics of plan ask Ontario Municipal Board to overrule city council
Do you know where you'll be voting in next year's municipal election?
For thousands of Torontonians, the answer can only be no. That's because while city council voted to redraw its ward boundaries and add three new seats last November, the decision is now being challenged at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
The hearing, set to take two weeks, began on Tuesday, with city legal staff defending the decision and Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, a legal representative for Coun. Justin Di Ciano, and two members of the pubic recommending the move be scrapped.
The proposed changes create three new wards in the downtown core, as well as one in the Willowdale area. Elsewhere, Ward 18, currently represented by newly-minted Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao, will disappear and other wards will be reshaped. Only seven wards won't change.
Brendan O'Callaghan, the lawyer representing the city, used his opening remarks to the three-person OMB panel to suggest council's decision should only be overturned if there's a "clear and compelling" reason to do so.
O'Callaghan noted there are serious parity issues with the way the city's wards are currently set up, largely due to a population boom in the downtown core.
Di Ciano's legal team, however, argued the city's method of redrawing the boundaries — a years-long process led by a team of consultants, also on hand for the hearing — was flawed and that the OMB should step in.
Mammoliti, meanwhile, sought to undermine the process of changing the ward structure by suggesting the public wasn't consulted enough during the lengthy process — especially in the inner suburbs.
"The city is much larger than the downtown part of the city," he told the panel.
During questioning from O'Callaghan, Gary Davidson and Beate Bowron, the consultants behind the recommendations, defended the consultation process, calling it "meaningful."
Some members of public also questioning city's move
Linda Brett, head of the Bloor Street East Neighbourhood, agrees. She's participated in the process and likes the result, suggesting it will give her and other downtown residents better representation at council.
Brett says she realizes many won't be paying attention to the changes, suggesting it's more of a "mind exercise" than city hall issues like taxes or condos going up across the street.
However, she says changing the ward map could introduce a new dynamic at city hall that could change the fate of some of its biggest initiatives — she pointed to decisions on the Gardiner East and the Scarborough subway as examples.
Lawyer Kevin Wiener says he also believes changing boundaries will make a difference, but he's also urging the OMB to step in and ensure the city stays at 44 wards.
Wiener fought and won a similar ward boundary case at the OMB while a student in Kingston, Ont. He says in this case, creating two new downtown wards gives those residents far more power than those in the city's suburbs, something that could enhance the perceived divide between the two groups.
It's unclear when the OMB will release its ruling on the matter.